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CNN: 10 'shocking' medical errors that can be prevented

How can patients proactively prevent never events?

Topics: Medical Errors, Quality, Performance Improvement, Infection Control, Appropriateness, Mortality, Outcomes, Patient Satisfaction, Safety

November 09, 2012

CNN this week identified 10 types of preventable medical mistakes that kill patients every year and offered tips on how patients can help providers avoid them.

According to Johns Hopkins Hospital patient safety expert Peter Pronovost, fatal medical mistakes in the United States likely added up to become "the third leading cause of death" in the country. Altogether, they kill more than a quarter million patients every year and injure millions, CNN reports.

CNN's list of 10 medical errors includes:

  • Treating the wrong patient. Before procedures, patients should ask hospital staff to verify their entire name and date of birth, as well as the barcode on their hospital bracelet.
  • Leaving a piece of equipment inside a patient's body during surgery. If a patient feels unexpected pain, swelling, or fever, they should ask staff whether they might have a surgical instrument in their body.
  • Losing a patient with dementia. Family and friends of patients with dementia should consider using GPS tracking bracelets if the patient tends to wander frequently. There are cases of patients with dementia wandering off without the knowledge of hospital staff and later dying of hypothermia or dehydration.
  • Con artists pretending to be physicians. Patients should always confirm that a physician is licensed using resources available online or elsewhere.

  • Becoming more ill while waiting in the ED. Patients in overcrowded EDs may wait hours to see a physician and must be proactive if they need immediate care. Patients should call their physician on the way to the ED and ask them to alert the hospital staff.
  • Allowing air bubbles to enter the bloodstream when a chest tube is removed. Patients should ask staff about proper body positioning before having a chest tube removed.
  • Operating on the wrong body part. Charts can be incorrect or surgeons can misread them, so patients should confirm the surgical site with the nurse and surgeon before the procedure.

  • Acquiring an infection because of poor staff hygiene. Although it is an uncomfortable question, patients should ask physicians and nurses if they have properly washed their hands before being touched—even if they are wearing gloves.

  • Putting medicine in the wrong tube. Patients should ask staff to trace every tube back to the point of origin when injecting substances to avoid errors.
  • Failing to give a patient sufficient anesthesia. Patients may want to ask if a local anesthetic would work as efficiently as general anesthesia (Bonifield/Cohen, CNN, 11/5).

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