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How big a problem are medical errors?

More than 250,000 people die every year due to medical errors, according to reports. This startling statistic causes some people to avoid medical care.

Do patients have cause for concern or are they overestimating their level of risk?

How often do medical errors happen?

Medical mistakes are the third most common cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.  Five medical errors consistently occur the most often:

  1. Drug errors
  2. Falls
  3. Too much bed rest
  4. Antibiotics misuse
  5. Too early discharge

Medication errors occur in hospitals at a rate of about 1,000 per day, with the most common mistake being prescribing the wrong dose. About half of all antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary or incorrectly prescribed. Meanwhile, over 300,000 preventable falls happen in hospitals every year. These falls are sometimes the result of hospitals not getting patients up and moving around fast enough, leading to weakness. Finally, hospitals that discharge patients too early or with inadequate instructions tend to have higher readmission rates.

What can patients do to avoid medical errors?

First, patients should educate themselves about common patient safety concerns. It may also be helpful to share this information with a trusted family member or friend so that they have an advocate if they need one. Second, patients should research the hospital and the doctor they will be receiving care from. Finally, patients should ask lots of questions and not be afraid to advocate for themselves.

Medical errors may happen more often than patients would like; however, patients can take steps to reduce the chances of a medical error occurring.