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How to Prevent Medical Errors – 3rd Leading Cause of Death

Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the US, according to a recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Only heart disease and cancer kill moreDoctor caring for baby after delivery West Virginians each year, the study suggests. The information below will help you understand what I mean by medical errors and what you can do to help protect yourself and your loved ones from medical mistakes.

According to Dr. Martin Makary, professor of surgery and health policy, medical errors cause at least 250,000 deaths every year according. To put it another way, over 680 people die in the US every single day because a doctor, nurse, hospital and/or other medical provider made one or more medical errors — that’s 10% of all deaths in the United States.

The results of this study have shocked the world, especially in light of the major reforms to the health-care system, including so-called tort reforms, like the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act, which make it more difficult for people injured by medical errors to hold negligent doctors accountable.

What are Medical Errors?

Dr. Makary of the Johns Hopkins study, points out that medical errors can include: lapses in judgment, skill or coordination of care; mistaken diagnoses; system failures that lead to patient deaths or the failure to rescue dying patients; and preventable complications of care. All of these medical mistakes would likely be considered medical malpractice under West Virginia law. 

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Resources provides additional examples of common medical errors including errors that involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, equipment, or lab reports. Medical errors are made even during the most routine tasks, such as when a hospital patient on a salt-free diet is given a high-salt meal.

Medical errors can also occur anywhere in the health care system: In doctor’s offices, surgery, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, clinics, and even in patient’s homes. Medical errors can also lead to wrongful death or birth injuries.

How to Prevent Medical Errors in West Virginia

Perhaps the best way to prevent a problem is to understand its cause. Most experts agree that many medical errors are caused by today’s complex health care system and when doctors and patients have problems communicating.

Therefore, the best way you can help to protect yourself from medical errors is to actively manage your health care and be an active member of your health care team. That means taking part in every decision about your health care, including the decisions your doctor makes about your treatment and medications. 

When you pay attention to your doctor’s decisions and your overall health care, doctors naturally pick up on that and will generally pay more attention, too. Additionally, you will be more likely to notice when a medical error is about to happen because of miscommunication between two or more of your doctors or hospitals.

If you find communicating with your doctor difficult or uncomfortable, consider bringing a trusted friend or family member to your doctor’s appointments. If that doesn’t work, consider finding a primary care doctor you feel comfortable communicating with and who listens to your concerns. They may be able to help you manage your overall medical care and communicate better with specialists.

Below are more ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from medical errors in West Virginia.

20 Tips to Help Prevent Injuries from Medical Malpractice in WV

The US Department of Health and Human Resources put together a list of 20 tips to help you prevent medical errors. Below are 17 of those tips that we believe are most important. Click here for the complete list of medical error prevention tips.


  • Make sure that all of your doctors know about every medicine you are taking. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, such as vitamins and herbs.
  • Bring all of your medicines and supplements to your doctor visits.“Brown bagging” your medicines can help you and your doctor talk about them and find out if there are any problems. It can also help your doctor keep your records up to date and help you get better quality care.
  • Make sure your doctor knows about any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines.
  • When your doctor writes a prescription for you, make sure you can read it and know what medication it is. If you cannot read your doctor’s handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either.
  • Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand—both from your doctor and pharmacist:
    1. What is the medicine for?
    2. How am I supposed to take it and for how long?
    3. What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
    4. Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
    5. What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
  • If you have any questions about the directions on your medicine labels, ask. Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For example, ask if “four times daily” means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

Hospital Stays

  • If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who will touch you whether they have washed their hands. Handwashing can prevent the spread of infections in hospitals, which are a leading cause of death and injury.
  • When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will follow at home. This includes learning about your new medicines, making sure you know when to schedule follow-up appointments, and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities.
    • It is important to know whether or not you should keep taking the medicines you were taking before your hospital stay. Getting clear instructions may help prevent an unexpected return trip to the hospital.

Surgery Safety

  • If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done.
    Having surgery at the wrong site (for example, operating on the left knee instead of the right) is rare but does happen. The good news is that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. Your Surgeon is expected to sign his or her initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.
  • If you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need. Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.

Other Tips to Ensure Your Safe Medical Care

  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
    You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.
  • Make sure that someone, such as your primary care doctor, coordinates your care. This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in the hospital.
  • Make sure that all your doctors have your important health information. Do not assume that everyone has all the information they need. As stated above, one of the leading causes of medical malpractice is the complex health care system that sometimes results in poor communication and coordination between medical providers.
  • Ask a family member or friend to go to appointments with you. Even if you do not need help now, you might need it later.
  • Know that “more” is not always better. Ask why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You could be better off without it. Ask if there are other options.
  • If you have a test, do not assume that no news is good news. Ask how and when you will get the results.
  • Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources. For example, treatment options based on the latest scientific evidence are available from the Effective Health Care Web site. Ask your doctor if your treatment is based on the latest evidence.

For more information about how to prevent medical errors and stay safe, check out our other article on medical error prevention.

Free Case Evaluation From a West Virginia Medical Malpractice Lawyer

We hope that you stay safe, healthy, and get quality health care. However, if you suspect you or your loved one have been harmed by a medical error, we invite you to call us for a Free Case Evaluation by an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. There’s also never a fee unless we recover compensation for you.

Our toll free number is 1-877-943-9378. If it’s more convenient for you, we will send a West Virginia medical malpractice attorney to you.

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