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Avoiding medical errors before they happen

May 6, 2015 | Doctor Errors

Approximately 200,000 deaths are due to preventable medical errors in New York and around the country every year. A 2010 study found that even if doctors or nurses witnessed mistakes by a medical provider, fewer than 10 percent spoke up. This may be a significant problem if hospitals are seeking to lower the risk to patients.

The members of a medical team who remain silent do so for several reasons. Protectiveness toward colleagues may keep them from speaking out. Alternately, some medical team members may fear retaliation if doctor errors are brought to light. Technological means to monitor choices and actions made by health care providers might alleviate this fear.

Two case scenarios illustrate different approaches to averting potential error. In one, a nurse witnesses a doctor about to put his or her patient at risk by making an inappropriate decision. If mention of the error before it happens occurs, the nurse may risk censure and retaliation. The nurse may remain silent, risking the patient’s well-being. In another scenario, cameras may capture a physician and other medical caregivers as they work and alert the health care team to potential problems. Intervention might be viewed as welcome for both the patient and the health care team.

Using technological advances might assist in decreasing the number of injuries patients incur while in the hospital. Further, the medical team itself may emerge stronger and less hampered by the latent fear of speaking out since the technological system would help to eliminate mistakes. Until such preventive measures are operational, however, some patients may be injured by doctor misjudgment that is not curtailed. Speaking with a medical malpractice attorney may be beneficial if such negligence causes physical and financial hardship to an affected patient, as the attorney can outline the remedies that may be available.