10 Shocking Medical Mistakes

The above headline came from a story on June 10, 2012 by CNN. The story examined general errors in medical care, and matched these mistakes with real life stories of people who had experienced them. After this initial story, several other news outlets have also carried stories on the same subject.

The CNN story starts off with an ominous statement noting that medical errors kill more than a quarter million people every year in the United States, and may well be the third leading cause of death. According to Dr. Albert Wu, an internist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, “Mistakes are happening every day in every hospital in the country that we’re just not catching”.

The 10 “Shocking” errors listed in the CNN article are:

  1. Treating the wrong patient when the hospital staff fails to verify a patient’s identity.
  2. Surgical souvenirs occur when instruments are left inside of patients because the surgical staff miscounts (or fails to count) equipment used inside a patient during an operation.
  3. Lost patients stemming from patients with dementia, who get lost and can become trapped or die from hypothermia or dehydration.
  4. Fake doctors also made the list occurring when con artists pretend to be doctors and cause much harm to unsuspecting patients.
  5. The ER waiting game, described by CNN as emergency rooms that get backed up when overcrowded hospitals don’t have enough beds, causing patients to get sicker while waiting for care.
  6. Air bubbles in blood, which is when the hole in a patient’s chest from a tube isn’t sealed airtight allowing air bubbles to get sucked into the wound and cut off blood supply to the patient’s lungs, heart, kidneys and brain.
  7. Operating on the wrong body part which happens when there is a mistake on a patient’s chart or the surgical procedure itself creates an atmosphere where such errors can happen.
  8. Infection from unsafe healthcare workers or less than optimal sanitary conditions in hospitals.
  9. Look-alike tubes are also listed as a common problem because a chest tube and a feeding tube can look a lot alike causing medicine meant for the stomach to go into the chest.
  10. Waking up during surgery from an under-dose of anesthesia. In this horrifying situation the brain stays awake while the muscles stay frozen. Although the CNN report notes that most patients aren’t in any pain, some do feel every poke, prod or cut, while others report excruciating pain.

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