Most Common Medical Errors

By MicroHealth | Sep 19, 2022

Medical errors are preventable events that often have an adverse effect on a patient’s health, whether the patient is aware of the error or not. Errors may occur for various reasons, ranging from faulty systems to recklessness on the provider’s part. Often, medical errors are unintentional. Improving healthcare systems through measures such as implementing interoperable electronic health records (EHRs) and improving workflows and communication procedures can help minimize their occurrence.

Types of Medical Errors

Medical errors fall into two broad categories — those that occur due to an individual’s actions and those that arise due to poor system design. Some of the most common types and causes of medical errors are:

1. Misdiagnosis

Healthcare providers don’t always get it right when reviewing patients and analyzing their symptoms. Misdiagnosis occurs when a provider incorrectly believes a patient has a certain illness and starts treatment for it.

A common reason for misdiagnosis is anchoring bias. Here, a provider may persist with a particular diagnosis even though evidence suggests that the patient has another issue.

2. Under or Overtreatment

Undertreatment occurs when a patient doesn’t receive adequate care, while overtreatment occurs when they get too much. A provider may overtreat a patient’s condition by prescribing them more medications than necessary or recommending the most invasive treatment option available when a less invasive care method may be just as effective.

Undertreatment and overtreatment can occur when providers have limited communication or if a patient’s health records aren’t accurately maintained.

3. Adverse Drug Events

Adverse drug events are the most common medical error in the U.S. and can take place at multiple levels. A provider might prescribe a medication to a patient that interacts with a drug they already take. A pharmacist might fill a prescription incorrectly if they can’t read the provider’s handwriting. In an inpatient setting, a provider might give a patient medication meant for someone else.

Health information technology helps reduce adverse drug events by ensuring that prescriptions are clear and legible and alerting providers to potential drug interactions before the patient receives the medication.

4. Wrong-Site Surgery

Surgical errors can have a serious impact on a patient’s health. One example of a common surgical error is wrong-site surgery, during which the surgeon operates on the wrong part of the body.

Wrong-site surgery can occur if patients’ charts get mixed up or if the surgeon is unable to read the chart. Having independent information checks throughout the process and before surgery begins reduces the risk of error.

5. Mistaken Identities

Sometimes, medical errors occur as a result of mistaken patient identities. One patient might receive imaging or treatment intended for another due to the patients having similar names, ages or medical conditions. Improving interdepartmental communication and asking patients to identify themselves (if possible) can help to reduce cases of mistaken identity.

Technology-Driven Healthcare Solutions From MicroHealth

Improving communication, streamlining patient records and increasing interoperability can all help reduce the risk of medical errors, protecting patients’ health and lives. MicroHealth provides IT services for healthcare organizations under the authority of the U.S. government, and we specialize in solutions that can help your organization save money and time and reduce the occurrence of medical errors. Contact us today to learn more.


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