When you go to a hospital, you think they’ll make you better, not make matters worse. Unfortunately, statistics show this is not always the case. In fact, preventable medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., right after heart disease and cancer, and claim the lives of an estimated 440,000 Americans each year. According to the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information, these medical errors are costing the nation a colossal $1 trillion each year. U.S. surgeons make more than 4,000 preventable surgical errors every year, such as removing the wrong limb or leaving a sponge or other medical device inside a patient during a procedure. According to a 10-year study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found these errors caused 6 percent of patients to die, 32.9 percent suffering permanent injury, and 59.2 percent suffering temporary injury. Of these medical mistakes, nearly half the errors involved a surgeon leaving a foreign object inside a patient, about 25 percent were wrong-site surgeries (such as operating on the wrong leg) and another 25 percent involved the wrong procedure being performed on a patient.
“Mistakes are happening every day in every hospital in the country that we’re just not catching,” says Dr. Albert Wu, an internist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
This story is all too familiar to a Denver-area mother who lost her 9-year-old daughter after a hospital made numerous fatal errors. According to Carol Hemmelgarn, her daughter Alyssa died as a result of a series of medical mistakes that could have been avoided.
“If your gut is telling you something is wrong, then you’ve got to articulate that and escalate it,” says Hemmelgarn. “Every parent and patient has a voice. We have to speak up when we think something isn’t right or we don’t understand. We can’t be afraid because we don’t have the knowledge.”
CNN identified the top types of preventable medical mistakes that either kill or seriously injure patients and offers tips on how to be better protected:
- Treating the wrong patient. Before every hospital procedure make sure the staff checks your entire name, date of birth, and barcode on your wristband.
- Leaving behind surgical souvenirs. If you have unexpected pain, fever or swelling after surgery, ask if you might have a surgical instrument left behind inside you.
- Fake doctors. Confirm online that your physician is licensed. Each state has its own medical boards or check out the American Medical Association’s online Doctor Finder.
- Operating on the wrong body part. Just before surgery, make sure you reaffirm with the nurse and surgeon the correct body part and side of the operation.
- Acquiring an infection due to poor staff hygiene. Hospital workers, doctors, and nurses often make patients ill by failing to adequately wash their hands. Always ask if the person touching you washed their hands before they touch you, even if they’re wearing gloves.
If you or someone you love has suffered serious or permanent injury as a result of negligent medical care, contact a knowledgeable Colorado medical malpractice attorney who can help you understand your rights and get you the justice you deserve.