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West Des Moines, Iowa Personal Injury Blog

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How patients can protect themselves from common medical errors

Iowa readers may be surprised to learn that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. However, patients can reduce their risk of harm by educating themselves and learning to spot the situations where medical mistakes are more likely to happen.

For example, medication mistakes are a frequent cause of patient harm. These mistakes can occur in a variety of ways, such as when doctors prescribe the wrong drug, pharmacists put the incorrect label on a drug bottle, or nurses administer the wrong medication. Patients can help protect themselves by asking questions about every drug they are given or arranging for a friend or family member to act as their advocate when they are incapacitated, such as when they are sedated for surgery.

The five most frequent nursing errors

In Iowa and across the U.S., nurses must face a stressful work environment, and this can cause them to lose focus and make mistakes. The following are the five most common errors made by nurses both new and experienced.

First are medication errors. Nurses are liable to confuse two patients and give one the other's medication or confuse two drugs with similar names. To avoid these errors, nurses should double-check names as well as patients' height and weight, continually update the list of medications and ask patients about any allergies prior to the administration of a drug.

Which mothers should worry about infant blindness?

It’s an understatement to say that the final stages of pregnancy can be a nerve-racking experience. Most expecting Iowa mothers that keep their bodies safe for the babies for months are still afraid that something might go wrong during the delivery that could negatively affect them or their newborn child for years to come.

The amount of risks increases exponentially if the baby comes prematurely. Since their bodies may not be fully developed in some areas yet, the doctors need to be especially careful when examining the child. Otherwise, they could end up partially or fully blind thanks to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Misdiagnosis behind the majority of malpractice cases

Central Iowa residents should know that a majority of medical malpractice claims arise because of a diagnostic error, usually misdiagnosis. This was the conclusion of a study published in the journal Diagnosis in July 2019. In particular, there were three types of conditions that were behind most of the errors: cancers, vascular events and infections.

Of the 55,000 or so malpractice claims that researchers analyzed, nearly 12,000 were linked to a misdiagnosis. These claims were filed between 2006 and 2015, and half of them were aimed against primary care physicians, including family physicians and pediatricians. It turns out that 74% of these misdiagnosis claims were linked to one of the three conditions mentioned above. The breakdown was 38% cancer, 23% vascular events and 13% infections.

One type of arthritis commonly misdiagnosed as another

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, people who have polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis have a higher prevalence of tumor necrosis factor inhibitors than those who have rheumatoid arthritis. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis affects the joints of a person beginning at a young age. Like rheumatoid arthritis, it is an inflammatory disease. Because of the similarities between the two conditions, people in Iowa may be misdiagnosed if they have pJIA.

Between 37% and 60% of people who have JIA as children are estimated to have it when they become adults, but they are likely to be misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at that point because they are likely to transition to a rheumatology clinic. The adverse effects of misdiagnosis can include flawed recommendations for treatment. Researchers from the College of Medicine at Penn State University looked for characteristics of pJIA that distinguish it from rheumatoid arthritis.

Surgeon behavior and patient complications

Patients in Iowa may be interested to learn that there is a link between a higher chance of post-operative complications and surgeons whose bad behavior has been reported by co-workers. This is according to a study in which reports regarding the unprofessional behavior of 202 surgeons, as relayed by their coworkers, were examined.

The researchers focused on reports from two academic medical facilities that took part in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. Other factors that were examined included the medical and surgical complications that occurred no more than 30 days after the operation for 13,653 patients. The unprofessional behaviors that were reported pertained to polite and clear communication, worries regarding unsafe or inadequate care, an absence of truthfulness and not fulfilling professional responsibilities.

Medication errors are more common than you think

Your focus is likely on recovery when you’re laying in that hospital bed. After all, it’s difficult to get back to work, play with your children or play a round of golf from your hospital room. That means placing your trust in your medical caregivers to give you the proper medication in the correct doses to get back on your feet.

What may surprise you is just how common medication errors are in Iowa and across the country. A 2013 study revealed that nearly two-thirds of the nurses involved had committed a medical error at some point in their career. Of those, just one-half caught the error before it happened. It’s believed that these errors are most often attributable to nurses because they handle most of the medical order workload.

Establishing causation in medical malpractice lawsuits

When Iowa residents take legal action after suffering injury, loss or damage due to the negligent actions of doctors or hospitals, they must convince the jury of two things to be successful. They must first establish that the medical care they received was not up to the generally accepted standards of the health care industry. Once this has been done, they must prove that the harm they suffered was directly caused by the substandard treatment they received.

Convincing a jury that doctors or hospitals provided treatment that deviated from acceptable medical standards is sometimes reasonably straightforward in medical malpractice cases. Juries could be shown MRI scans or X-rays that reveal foreign objects were left inside patients who underwent surgery, and medical specialists could testify that a serious disease missed by doctors would have been detected if the correct tests had been ordered. Proving that these mistakes were the factual cause of harm is often a far more nebulous process.

Improving medication list accuracy with training

Many patients in Iowa are victims of medical malpractice due to medication errors. In a recent study, researchers found that medication reconciliation training reduces errors when it comes to medication lists.

Physician assistant researchers at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, Multidisciplinary Clinic implemented a patient medication interview to make sure that information on all patient medications was properly captured. They claim that many medical record technicians have not received enough training and are unfamiliar with patient records. In their study, the researchers also found that patients are often unable to recall all of the medications they were prescribed. Many patients did not bring their medications or a list to share with medication technicians.

Wrong site surgeries persist across U.S.

Wrong-site surgery continues to be a major problem in Central Iowa and across the U.S., according to medical malpractice experts. In fact, it is estimated that American surgeons perform between 40 and 60 wrong-site surgeries each week nationwide.

These surgical errors persist despite educational and awareness campaigns designed to reduce the risk. For example, National Time Out Day was launched 15 years ago to remind surgical teams to conduct effective preoperative "time outs," which are a series of safety checks meant to ensure a surgery is performed on the correct limb or organ. However, statistics show the annual event has done little to lessen the problem.

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