Posted On December 15, 2022

What Is the Leading Cause of Deaths from Medical Errors in Hospitals?

In the United States, deaths from medical errors are the third leading cause of death for patients. More than 400,000 patients die each year from medical errors that include misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, treatment and surgical errors, drug and prescription errors, communication errors, and patient follow-up procedures.

Common Causes of Deaths from Medical Errors

Injuries and deaths from medical errors are far more common than most people realize. According to medical errors statistics, between 250,000 and 400,000 patients die every year from some type of medical error that likely could have been prevented. It is estimated that actual figures are much higher. Medical errors are a serious public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States.

Medical errors account for a high number of patient injuries and deaths for a variety of reasons. While not all medical errors result in death, they may result in health complications for the patient including prolonged illness, internal bleeding and infections, delayed healing, and other health problems that prevent the patient from a full recovery. Some patients may experience life-threatening complications which could lead to death unless they were caught early enough.

In the United States, medical errors are the third leading cause of death, just behind heart disease and cancer. Every year, millions of patients suffer injuries or death due to unsafe and poor-quality health care. Medical errors made by hospitals and medical professionals occur on a daily basis. While many medical errors have minor consequences for patients, some result in patient deaths. The most common causes of deaths from medical errors include the following:

  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Drug and Medication Errors
  • Unsafe Surgical Procedures
  • Radiation Errors
  • Internal Infections
  • Blood Clots

Unfortunately, all of the above causes of patient deaths are preventable with proper medical care. Patients who die from these conditions are usually victims of physician errors that occur from unfamiliar patient history, lack of proper testing procedures, and lack of proper patient follow-up procedures. Internal infections and blood clots are two of the most common and preventable causes of patient injury and death. These conditions alone contribute to one-third of the complications attributed to patient hospitalization each year in the United States, accounting for an estimated 3.9 million cases.

Types of Medical Errors in Hospitals

Patient Misdiagnosis

It is estimated that up to 80,000 patients receiving care in U.S. hospitals die every year due to a medical misdiagnosis. A misdiagnosis may include diagnosing the patient’s medical condition incorrectly, failing to diagnose the patient’s medical condition fast enough (delayed diagnosis), or failing to diagnose the patient’s condition at all (missed diagnosis). A misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or missed diagnosis can cause a delay in the patient’s treatments and put the patient in danger of complications, infections, and death.

Diagnostic errors are one of the most common causes of patient injuries and deaths. They can be caused by a variety of factors including failure to obtain a patient’s complete medical history; misread or wrong test results; faulty medical equipment; incomplete medical exams; and lack of patient follow-up and treatment procedures, especially when patients are seen by several doctors and specialists for evaluations and treatments.

Treatment and Surgical Errors

Medical errors related to treatment procedures and surgical procedures are a common cause of patient health complications as well as deaths from medical errors, especially for hospital patients. Hospitals are busy places with thousands of patients, hundreds of on-call doctors and nurses, hospital surgeons and surgical staff, healthcare aids for patients, and hundreds of staff workers who handle patient charts and billing procedures. Hospital patients are often taken care of by on-call doctors and surgeons who may fail to properly communicate between patients, nurses, and aids.

Hospital Treatment Errors – These types of errors are commonly linked to patient-related errors such as improper patient identification, insufficient patient assessment, failure to get patient consent forms, and inadequate information on a patient’s medical history.

Surgical Errors – These types of errors can have life-threatening consequences for patients. They include operating on the wrong body part, performing the wrong procedure, operating on the wrong patient, and leaving medical sponges and tools inside of patients.

Hospital treatment errors and surgical errors are blamed for many hospital deaths not only in America but in countries around the world. Healthcare organizations consider these types of medical errors in healthcare as never events, which means that they should never happen to patients. Errors made during surgical procedures often result in life-threatening infections like sepsis, as well as strokes and heart attacks.

Drug and Prescription Errors

Drug and prescription errors are another common cause of deaths from medical errors in hospitals. According to the Patient Safety Network, an error rate of 8% to 25% for drug and prescription errors is common in most hospitals and long-term care facilities. The most common errors include:

  • Giving a patient the wrong medication
  • Giving a patient the wrong dose or strength of a medication
  • Giving a patient expired medication
  • Giving medication to the wrong patient
  • Failing to administer medications at the right time
  • Failing to consider a patient’s medical history for allergies or drug interactions

All of the above errors related to administering drugs and medications to patients are the causes of many medication errors in Indiana.

Communication Errors

Due to a large workforce of doctors, surgeons, nurses, lab technicians, and other healthcare workers, communication errors are very common in hospitals. According to a Mayo Clinic survey of 6,700 doctors, it was found that at least 10% of medical workers reported making major medical errors within the last three months.

The report showed that a large percentage of doctors and nurses attributed their errors to burnout and excessive fatigue. Surgeons and some doctors attributed their errors to very long work hours and scheduling problems. Lab technicians attributed their errors to defective equipment that caused incorrect or incomplete patient test results. Nurses and nurses’ aids contributed their errors to inadequate staffing, long hours, and fatigue.

Patient Follow-Up Procedures

In most hospitals, A control list of patients that are due for follow-up procedures is compiled and compared to hospital admission and outpatient records. If the patient has returned to the hospital for care, hospital records are updated with appropriate information. If the patient has not returned to the hospital, follow-up letters are usually mailed to the managing or referring physician in charge of the patient’s care. Letters may also be sent to other physicians who are involved in the patient’s care. When a physician has not seen the patient since the date of last contact, follow-up letters are then usually sent to the patient, family members, or other patient contacts.

Considering hospital patient contact rules, it is difficult to understand how patient follow-up procedures can go wrong, yet they are a common cause of patient health complications and deaths. The explanation for errors is usually blamed on hospital software systems that generate letters improperly or patient information that was entered in the hospital’s database incorrectly. In either case, these follow-up errors may result in patient deaths from medical errors due to health complications, infections, and injuries that go untreated.

Suing for Wrongful Death for Deadly Medical Errors

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

According to law, wrongful death occurs when a person or entity fails to fulfill a legal duty and causes death to occur. Medical professionals are held to a high standard when it comes to “duty of care” for their patients. Hospitals, doctors, nurses, surgeons, and other medical professionals are expected to provide a safe, reasonable duty of care to patients who are under their care.

If a patient suffers harm from lack of care by a medical professional, that patient can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the at-fault medical establishment or professional, if negligence occurred. If a patient dies, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by certain surviving family members or by a personal representative from the estate of the deceased.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove the following to recover compensation for wrongful death:

  • The person or entity behaved negligently or committed an intentional wrongful act
  • The person’s actions were the direct cause of the patient’s death
  • Damages were sustained as a result of the patient’s death

If all of these elements are proved by hospital errors attorneys, surviving family members of the deceased patient, or the estate of the deceased patient can be awarded compensation by an Indiana court.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

When a person dies from a wrongful death, they cannot file a lawsuit on their own behalf, so it is important to understand who is allowed to sue the responsible party. Typically, people who are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit include surviving spouses, parents or children, other immediate family members, and a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. The specific details for who can make a claim are determined by the wrongful death statute in the state where the fatal incident took place.

In Indiana, the law determines who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit differently, depending on whether the person who died (the decedent) was an adult or a child at the time of death. The following rules apply in Indiana:

Child Decedents

In a wrongful death claim involving the death of a child, the case must be filed by one or both of the child’s parents. If the parents are divorced, the claim must be filed by a parent who has legal custody of the child. If both parents are deceased or their parental rights have been terminated, the case must be filed by the child’s legal guardian. For the purpose of a wrongful death claim, Indiana law defines a child as: (1- an unmarried person without dependents who is younger than 20 years old, (2- an unmarried person without dependents who is younger than 23 years old and enrolled in college, a career and technical school, or another program, or (3- a fetus that has reached viability.

Adult decedents

In many states, the deceased person’s family members are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, in Indiana, only the personal representative (also referred to as the executor) of the deceased adult’s estate is permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

How Long Do I Have to Sue?

In Indiana, the filing deadline for a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the person’s death. The deadline is the same regardless of whether the deceased person was an adult or a child. If the claim is not filed within that two-year period, Indiana courts will almost certainly refuse to hear the case, which could impact the recovery of compensation for deaths from medical errors.