Some doctors and medical researchers consider medical errors that lead to patient deaths an under-recognized epidemic, and available data on the subject seems to support this.
In 2000, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published the report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which estimated that medical mistakes kill between 44,000 and 98,000 patients each year in the United States. Some in the medical community insisted that the estimates were far too low, and it appears they may have been right.
A recent meta-analysis study published in 2016 and conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine estimates that medical errors result in as many as 250,000 deaths annually. This makes medical mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States—coming in behind heart disease and cancer but ahead of respiratory disease, accidents, and strokes. It also means that medical errors account for approximately 10 percent of U.S. deaths each year.
If you lost a loved one due to a medical mistake, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit and pursue compensation for damages. However, not all negative outcomes are considered medical malpractice. If you're considering a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit, here's what you should know.
Common Medical Errors
Most medical error claims can be divided into three categories: those involving diagnostic errors, those involving treatment errors, and those involving preventative errors.
Diagnostic mistakes include:
- Delayed or missed diagnosis
- Failure to order or evaluate tests
Common examples of treatment errors include:
- Delayed treatment
- Wrong or unnecessary tests or treatment
- Improper medication, dosage, or dosing method
Preventative errors may include:
- Failure to adequately prepare the patient for surgery
- Failure to take the appropriate precautions
- Failure to take steps to prevent infection
- Failure to adequately monitor the patient after surgery
- Failure to discharge the patient at the proper time or with adequate post-operative instructions
- Failure to provide adequate follow-up care
For the purpose of the meta-analysis study, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers also defined medical errors as “lapses in judgment, skill, or coordination of care,” as well as “system failures that lead to patient deaths or the failure to rescue dying patients.”
Increase in Medical Errors or an Increase in Awareness?
While the sharp increase in the number of medical error-related deaths between the 2000 and 2016 studies may seem alarming, some in the medical community insist that it reflects an increase in the awareness of medical mistakes rather than an increase in actual mistakes. Regardless, the fact that medical errors result in so many deaths suggests that the issue warrants further scrutiny.
Proving a Medical Malpractice Claim or Case
Not all poor health outcomes can be considered medical malpractice. In order to prove a medical malpractice wrongful death claim or case, the plaintiff and his attorney must be able to show that:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed between the medical provider and the deceased, and as a result, the doctor owed the patient a duty of care.
- The care the doctor provided the deceased patient was below the accepted standard of care, meaning that a similarly trained doctor would not have made the same decisions in a similar situation.
- The doctor's negligent or substandard care directly resulted in the patient's injury or death.
Do You Need a Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Attorney?
If you lost a loved one due to a fatal medical error, you may be eligible for compensation for a wide variety of damages, including the decedent's medical bills before death, funeral/burial fees or cremation costs, and lost income. Contact Holton Law to schedule a free initial evaluation to discuss the details of your case with a legal professional.