Medical Mistakes to Watch out For

Medical errors kill more than 250,000 people in the United States yearly.  Mistakes are happening every day in every hospital in the country, but there are strategies you can use to help doctors and nurses get things right.  Here are some common medical mistakes to watch out for:

1. Treating the wrong patient: this happens when hospital staff fails to verify a patient's identity, so patients with similar names can be confused.

To avoid this, make sure the staff checks your entire name, date of birth and barcode on your wrist band before every procedure in the hospital

2. Surgical souvenirs:  This happens if surgical staff miscounts (or fails to count) equipment used inside a patient during an operation.  Without a checks and balance, tools can get left inside the body.  If you have unexpected pain, fever or swelling after surgery, ask if you might have a surgical instrument inside you.

3. The ER waiting game: Emergency rooms get backed up when overcrowded hospitals don't have enough beds.  Patients get sicker while waiting for care.  One way to try to get care faster or more efficient care, is to call your physician and ask them to call the emergency room on your way to the hospital. Doctors listen to other doctors, so this simple phone call might be in your best interest.

4.  Air bubbles in blood:  During some surgeries, holes in a patient's chest aren’t sealed airtight after a chest tube is removed.  This means air bubbles get sucked into the wound and cut off blood supply to the patient's lungs, heart, kidneys and brain. Left uncorrected this error can be fatal.  If you have a central line tube in you, ask how you should be positioned when the line comes out.

5. Operating on the wrong body part:  this can happen if a patient's chart is incorrect, or a surgeon misreads it, or surgical draping obscures marks that denote the correct side of the operation.  The surgeon cuts into the wrong side of a patient's body.  Just before surgery, make sure you reaffirm with the nurse and the surgeon the correct body part and side of your operation.

6. Infection:  This can happen when medical personnel, doctors and nurses, do not wash their hands.  This is troublesome because patients can die from infections spread by hospital workers.  It may be uncomfortable to ask, but make sure doctors and nurses wash their hands before they touch you, even if they're wearing gloves.

7. Waking up during surgery:  This happens when there is an under-dose of anesthesia.  The brain stays awake while the muscles stay frozen. Most patients aren't in any pain but some feel every poke, prod and cut.  When you schedule surgery, ask your surgeon if you need to be put asleep or if a local anesthetic might work just as well.