Halloween is upon us—the scariest time of the year. A season filled with horror movies, ghost stories, jack-o-lanterns, witches, goblins, vampires, and other terrifying creatures. While most people enjoy the decorations and tales, some like to stay as far away as possible. The calming aspect of all this is that we know these stories aren’t real at the end of the day, and this spooky atmosphere will only be around for one month. Although, one event that is very frightening and never goes away: medical errors.
Medical errors occur more than one would think. The FDA receives more than 100,000 reports related to medical errors every year.1 Types of errors include prescribing, dispensing, administration, monitoring, etc., and can occur in pharmacies, hospitals, private practices, and even in one’s home. For more statistics, check out our infographic below:
Medical errors are extremely serious and could be life-threatening. Here’s how it can affect the patient and their loved ones, the physician, and the organization:
Patient: Endless scenarios could occur that can lead someone into a healthcare facility. Some conditions may require something as little as a prescription or as large as an emergency procedure. Let’s say you are being treated for allergies or a mental illness and your provider prescribes the wrong dose of medication. You could experience side effects from rashes and nausea to loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death. Another scenario: someone in your family gets into a car accident requiring spinal surgery. One minor error could cause nerve damage, which could potentially be fatal or, at best, send the victim into a wheelchair for the rest of their life. Both situations are preventable, and knowing this makes the situation harder to come to terms with. Imagine losing your parent, spouse, child, friend, etc. because a medical professional made a careless mistake, that is a lot to deal with and may cause future mental health issues such as depression, schizophrenia, or possibly suicide.
Physician: Medical errors not only affect the person involved but the physician who made a mistake as well. Healthcare workers know they are responsible for human lives when they clock in to work every day, and most of the time, they get the job done successfully. No one is perfect, but healthcare workers expect themselves to be, which is why they are much more likely to mourn the lows than celebrate the highs.
When a physician makes a crucial error, shame and guilt become dark clouds that constantly hang over their heads. They know that the members of the person’s family—or the person themselves if he/she/they made it out alive—may never forgive them. This is referred to as the ‘second victim.’2 Healthcare workers who go through this often experience performance anxiety, like the ‘yips’ in sports. One of the most dominant pitchers of his generation, Jon Lester, could not throw the ball to first base, allowing runners to torment and steal bases all over him. When medical professionals experience this, they can no longer perform simple tasks, such as drawing blood, inserting IVs, and simply counseling patients. Suicide and self-harm are the worst symptoms of a second victim. There are several examples of this, but one famous report tells the story of a 50-year-old nurse who committed a mathematical error when calculating a dosage, leading to the overdose of a seriously ill infant. Her employment was terminated after 27 years of service, and just seven months later, she committed suicide.3
Organization: The organization has a lot to risk after malpractice. When a critical medical error occurs, the patient or family is likely to file a personal injury lawsuit, resulting in substantial settlement costs. This process is extremely tedious and time-consuming, causing the management team to work more hours and spend more money investigating and modifying policies. Not only is it bad financially, but the practice’s reputation decreases, and trust is lost in their clinicians. Trust is, and will always be, one of the most important qualities of delivering care.
Medical errors are bound to occur, and there is no way to avoid them altogether. However, there are several measures individuals can take to minimize the number of them:
Healthcare Workers: Doctors, pharmacists, nurses, etc., must be accurate when writing notes and prescriptions. One number out of place can be the difference between life and death. Double-check your work and the work of your colleagues, especially interns and young residents. The overwhelming hospital scene can become a distraction even to the best doctors. If a mistake does occur, it is your responsibility to report it. The quicker an error is tended to, the more likely it is to overcome it.
Communication between yourself and your patients is essential in preventing adverse events. Educate yourself on the person before the appointment—what is their family history like; what allergies do they have; what medication are they already taking? The clinician’s job is to make sure the patient has a full understanding of their treatment plan. When dispensing or refilling a prescription, the instructions and warning labels should be very clear.
Patients: Before patients schedule an appointment with a doctor or specialist, they should read their reviews first to ensure the practice is reliable and trustworthy. At the appointment, be completely open and honest with your physician. Every little detail you tell them—whether family history, an allergy, a lifestyle choice like drinking or smoking, sexual intimacy, etc.—impacts the drug they prescribe, and the treatment plan they assign. No good comes from lying.
Just as it is the doctor’s job to make sure the patient has a good understanding of the treatment; it is the patient’s job to ask questions when they are unsure about a step(s) in the process. It is essential that you carefully read and abide by the instructions and warning labels. Do not skip dosages because you currently feel good or add dosages because you had a stressful day. It is perilous and can cause adverse events down the road. If you have any doubt about your physician, it is okay to do your research as well. Ask your pharmacist what their opinion is if it will make you feel more comfortable.
Technology: Technology can help patients, physicians, and healthcare organizations prevent medical errors. According to the Food and Drug Administration, 50% of prescribed medication are not taken as directed by doctors and pharmacists,4 and forgetfulness is one of the leading causes. With mHealth apps, users can track their medications, create schedules, order refills, receive alerts when to take their medication, and more. Your clinicians also have access to these apps.
There are several tools that doctors, nurses, and pharmacists can use to help them create a safer care environment. Through eMAR and barcode technology, when a nurse scans a patient’s wristband, their complete profile comes up on the screen with all their information. This assures they follow the Six Rights Checking—the correct patient, correct medication, correct dosage, correct time, correct documentation method, and correct route of administration. eMAR is also equipped with Clinical Decision Support that will alert staff when a prescription or form is incomplete, a staff member inputs an abnormal dosage, or when there is a clash between a drug and another drug, food, or allergy.
A Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) tool can help administrative staff manage operational costs, clean up claims, lower A/R days, and more! Optimum RCM by Cantata received Highest Client Satisfaction for Enterprise Resource Planning Software, Long-Term Care Technologies, and Hospital Revenue Cycle Management.
There is no way to avoid medical errors altogether; even the best doctors make mistakes. However, we can minimize the risk of errors and maximize patient safety by understanding the horrific events after a medical error, being cautious, proactive, and using the technology provided to us.
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- SingleCare Team, and Anne Jacobson. “Medication Errors Statistics.” The Checkup, 2 May 2021, https://www.singlecare.com/blog/news/medication-errors-statistics/.
- “Impact of Medication Errors on Patients, Healthcare Workers, and Hospitals.” Qlicksmart, 27 Oct. 2020, https://www.qlicksmart.com/impact-medication-errors/.
- Grissinger, Matthew. “Too Many Abandon the ‘Second Victims’ of Medical Errors.” NCBI, MediMedia USA, Inc., Sept. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159062/.
- Bell, Brianna, and Kristi C. Torres. “Never Forget a Med Again with These Pill Reminder Apps.” The Checkup, SingleCare, 22 July 2020, https://www.singlecare.com/blog/best-medication-reminder-apps/).