Last Saturday, CNN aired a re-run of a documentary with senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen on the top 25 medical mistakes that are made in America (originally aired in 2012). The documentary used real case studies from victims of medical malpractice to illustrate each of the astounding 25 mishaps. For those of you who missed the special, we have detailed a summary of Cohen’s countdown below:
25. “Baby security breach” – Cohen discusses the alarming reality that since the early 1980s, over 100 babies have been abducted from US healthcare facilities. Keep a watch on who is looking after your newborn after delivery and ensure your baby is with you as much as possible.
24. “Fake doctors” – Cohen points out that there have been hundreds of people in recent years pretending to have a medical license and working at various healthcare facilities. These fakers are capable of grave and preventable mistakes that can potentially destroy an innocent victim’s life. Always check your doctor online to verify that he or she has a current and active medical license in your state, especially if you are suspicious that something is up.
23. “Treating the wrong patient” – At busy hospitals, patients can oftentimes be confused with other patients and sent for the wrong imaging study or given the wrong medication. In scenarios where a certain study or medication will cause more harm than good, this can become a major issue. Anytime you are sent for any type of treatment at the hospital, have a staff member verify your wristband by name, date of birth, and barcode.
22. “Pharmacy Faux Pas” – Millions of prescriptions are filled with the wrong drug inside or given to the wrong patient at pharmacies around the country each year. Obviously, taking someone else’s medication could result in lasting health problems, loss of a pregnancy, and other poor outcomes. Although this may seem a bit embarrassing at the counter, Cohen suggests opening up each prescription bottle you are given and confirming with the pharmacist that the medication inside is the one your doctor requested for you. In addition, always be sure to verify that your name is the one on the label and was not confused with someone else’s.
21. “Botched plastic surgery” – Many elective surgeries designed to perfect one’s appearance can go horribly wrong when the surgeon is not careful. Always do your homework before you hire a surgeon to perform plastic surgery on your body. Thoroughly research the surgeon before your consultation and make sure he or she is Board certified to perform plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Try to find previous patients that can comment on their own experiences through online reviews or word of mouth.
20. “Dosage disasters” – A small but noteworthy percentage of the time, healthcare facility staffers incorrectly stock their medication drawers, resulting in potentially deadly consequences. Anytime you’re given a medication in a healthcare facility, be sure to request a list of medications and dosages that were prescribed to you to ensure the medication matches what was recommended. An annoyed staff member is much better than an infant being given an adult dosage!
19. “Toxic transplants” – Although transplants are incredible life savers, sometimes the person donating his or her organs had problems that would make matters worse for the receiving party. Be your own advocate and speak up if you notice yourself feeling worse after a transplant than you did prior to the procedure. The earlier you get treatment in the case of a toxic transplant, the better your prognosis will be.
18. “Dumb discharge” – It is not uncommon for patients to feel ill or disoriented upon their discharge from the hospital. This can lead to unfortunate accidents and the inability to find a way home. Try to arrange for a ride home from the hospital so that you arrive there safe and sound upon your discharge from a healthcare facility.
17. “Ambulance errors” – In a life-threatening emergency, 5 minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, silly mistakes can sometimes prevent an ambulance from arriving in a timely manner. When calling 911, be sure the operator spells out the name of the right street address so nobody is dispatched to the wrong location.
16. “Lost patients” – Because mentally unstable or disoriented patients can wander, it is very important that healthcare workers are alert to the whereabouts of all the patients they are responsible for at all times. Sometimes, a patient slips through the cracks and cannot be found. Look into buying your loved one a GPS tracker bracelet if they are prone to wandering.
15. “Surgical souvenirs” – No patient wants to find out an object was left inside their body after surgery. However, as Cohen points out, this exact thing happens in approximately 2 out of every 10,000 surgeries! If you have a funny feeling with pain, fever, or swelling post-surgery, don’t be shy to ask your doctor if something may have been left behind.
14. “Baby switcheroos” – Although in most cases the switch eventually gets sorted out, every now and then a baby is given to the wrong mother, who then breastfeeds and bonds with someone else’s newborn at the hospital. Always check your baby’s ID band to ensure it matches yours before letting the hospital staffer who came in with “your baby” leave the room.
13. “Air bubbles in blood” – Chest tubes that are removed inappropriately can lead to deadly embolisms. When a medical professional goes to remove you or a loved one’s chest tube, be sure to ask how the patient should be ideally positioned to minimize mistakes.
12. “Misdiagnosed” – According to Cohen, a startling 1 in 10 diagnoses received by a doctor may be incorrect. Trust your gut and consider a 2nd opinion when something doesn’t seem right.
11. “Transfusion confusion” – Unfortunately, a transfusion is sometimes given to a patient with a mismatched blood type. This can result in major problems and even death. Be aware of your own blood type and double check any bags of blood being given to you to ensure they match up.
10. “Getting burned” – Surgical fires are extremely frightening and extremely dangerous for a helpless patient. Before you have a surgery that involves electrical machinery, ask your surgeon how the machinery will be used and what precautions will be in place to make sure you’re safe.
9. “Look-alike tubes” – Cohen states a whopping 16% of doctors and RNs confirmed in a survey that “tube mix-ups” happen in their workplace. Be alert when a staff member administers medicine through a tube to your body and ask to have the tube traced back to the insertion point to make sure it’s going where it should be.
8. “Biopsy blunder” – In unfortunate rare cases, a pathologist or lab worker can mislabel your biopsied tissue. Cohen claims this happens in 1 out of every 1,000 biopsies. If all of your treating doctors (surgeon, radiologist, pathologist) do not agree on the results of your biopsy, request a repeat test or get a 2nd opinion right away.
7. “Having the wrong baby” – If you’re currently undergoing fertility treatments, watch out for embryo mix-ups! Cohen discusses one mom’s experience carrying a baby to term and only then finding out that she was given someone else’s embryo by mistake. Do heavy research before visiting a fertility clinic and ensure they are accredited by the College of American Pathologists.
6. “Operating on the wrong body part” – Cohen points out that surprisingly, 7 patients experience “body part mix-ups” every day in America. Before you get surgery, confirm with the hospital staff and the surgeon involved which body part should be operated on.
5. “Radical radiation” – Every now and then a hospital worker incorrectly programs a scanner and as a result, a patient is administered too much radiation. Try to opt for ultrasounds and MRIs before a CT scan if possible because they do not involve any radiation.
4. “Infection infestation” – Cohen states 100,000 patients die each year from hospital-acquired infections. Ensure anyone coming into contact with you at a hospital washed their hands thoroughly before touching your body, even if they have gloves on.
3. “Metal in the MRI room” – MRI scanners are very powerful magnets. When a hospital worker mistakenly brings anything with metal on it into a room with an active MRI happening, the object will immediately fly towards the scanner with the utmost of force. Make sure there is no metal around when you’re getting an MRI.
2. “The ER waiting game” – Long wait times are almost certain when you visit any ER. If you are in a life-threatening situation and arriving by car, call your physician to alert the hospital that you’re on your way.
1. “Waking up during surgery” – Anesthesia awareness is an incredibly traumatizing experience that can happen to anyone. When scheduling your surgery, ask if you can be numbed rather than put to sleep to avoid any potential for feeling what’s happening during your operation.
To watch the CNN special in its entirety, visit a link to YouTube here. For a full transcript of the special, visit CNN’s archives here. New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers Weiss & Paarz hope this summary helps someone out there avoid a preventable medical malpractice mistake. If you or a loved one has suffered severe and permanent injury as a result of a medical mistake, contact us today to see if you may be entitled to compensation. We do not charge our clients any fees unless we recover money for them.