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Medical mistakes kill 250,000 annually, injure millions

Most patients put themselves in the care of doctors and hospitals trusting that their health and well-being will be carefully monitored. In too many instances, this is not the case. Medical mistakes are far more common than many people believe. Such errors rising to the level of medical malpractice wind up causing the deaths of more than 250,000 patients each year, with additional millions escaping death but suffering serious and sometimes disabling injuries.

Among the most egregious medical errors are those in which a doctor or other hospital staff member fails to make sure of the patient's identity and gives them the treatment intended for another patient, while depriving the person of the treatment he or she actually needs. To prevent such a mistake, patients may want to ask that their identity be checked before any procedure is begun.

It is also too common that foreign objects are left inside a patient's body following surgery, where they can cause swelling and festering infection. Patients need to report immediately any swelling or pain after surgery, which may be a symptom of this type of error.

Some hospitals even misplace or lose patients. This is especially a problem for patients with dementia, who may wander off, but also occurs when immobile patients are placed on a gurney for transport for X-rays or other testing, and then mistakenly left in a hospital hallway or corridor. A GPS tracking bracelet may be helpful. In some of these cases, patients have actually died from dehydration or hypothermia.

There have been a good number of cases in which surgeons have operated on the wrong body part because a patient's chart is wrong or it is misread. Before any operation, patients or their families should make sure that the surgery is going to be performed on the right body part, located on the correct side of the body.

These and other mistakes often result in medical malpractice lawsuits, which can provide patients and their families with compensation for errors that have long-lasting or even fatal consequences.

Source: CNN, "10 shocking medical mistakes," John Bonifield and Elizabeth Cohen, Nov. 5, 2012

• Our firm handles a wide variety of medical malpractice cases and other personal injury issues. To learn more about our firm, please visit our Harrisburg medical malpractice page.

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