Hospital patients are often at their most vulnerable. Their fragile health may be tottering on the brink of life and death.

Yet these same patients are also some of the most frequent victims of medical errors. The very institution designed to heal them instead ends up mistreating them – in a very literal sense.

It happens more often than you think

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death nationwide, according to a recent John Hopkins study. What types of mistakes are you most likely to suffer as a hospital patient? According to Beckers Hospital Review, these are among the most common:

1. Medication mistakes

When it comes to administering medication, there is plenty of room for error. The wrong dosage, the wrong patient, the wrong method for administering the drug – all can have drastic consequences.

The problem is more complex than it might seem at first glance. According to one study, nearly 65 percent of nurses have made medication errors, and 31 percent have had near-misses. Yet nurses aren’t the only ones responsible. Doctors contribute by prescribing wrong medications or communicating unclear instructions. Pharmacists contribute by failing to properly fill prescriptions or catch adverse drug interactions. And hospitals contribute by understaffing shifts, leading to unreasonable patient loads that increase the rate of errors.

2. Preventable infections

Hospitals are hotbeds for infection. However, that’s no excuse for letting preventable infections take hold – or for failing to promptly identify, treat and contain outbreaks.

The biggest threats when it comes to hospital-acquired infections include:

  • Urinary tract infections from catheters
  • Blood infections from central lines
  • Surgical site infections
  • Ventilator-acquired pneumonia

These infections can easily become life-threatening in patients with struggling health. They’re often preventable through proper care and monitoring.

3. Obstetrical errors

Hospital labor and delivery units are ground zero for numerous types of errors. Mistakes can have especially tragic consequences because the lives of not one, but two patients – mother and baby – are at stake.

Errors frequently involve:

  • Failure to promptly identify complications
  • Failure to order a timely Cesarean section
  • Failure to monitor patients
  • Technical errors in performing assisted deliveries (such as forceps or vacuum deliveries) or C-sections

Looking ahead

Everyone can agree that hospitals should strive for fewer errors. Yet how to do so is not always clear-cut. The answer involves many factors, from individual knowledge and training to more consistent protocols to changes in staffing and shifts.

Hopefully, by holding institutions as well as individual practitioners accountable, we can work toward a better future in quality health care.