September 2022 (Chicago, IL)

According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins, more than 250,000 Americans die every year because of medical mistakes, making medical malpractice the third leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer. Other studies report much higher figures, with some claiming the number of deaths is closer to 450,000.

The reason for this discrepancy is that doctors, funeral directors, coroners, and medical examiners rarely indicate on death certificates that human errors and system failures were involved. These death certificates, however, are what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rely on to post national statistics for deaths.

While three of the most common incidences of medical negligence are related to surgeries, medication, and misdiagnoses, medical malpractice can occur in many ways. It can also happen at any stage in the medical treatment process – during diagnosis, treatment, recovery, or advice following treatment – and at any kind of medical facility, from a walk-in clinic to an emergency room to a specialized surgical center.

Due to the overwhelming prevalence of medical errors, it’s important for patients and their families to understand some of the most common examples of how medical malpractice can occur.

Missed and Delayed Diagnoses

When the diagnosis of a medical condition is neglected or delayed, a patient’s condition can quickly worsen. Missed or delayed diagnoses are common: one study estimates that 28% of cancer cases in the U.S. are misdiagnosed, resulting in the failure of timely treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Diagnostic errors occur when:

  • A patient is not properly diagnosed with a medical condition despite having signs and symptoms that are consistent with the condition
  • A patient is mistakenly diagnosed with condition they do not have
  • A patient is diagnosed after the condition has progressed to an incurable stage

Strokes and heart attacks are surprisingly common in misdiagnosed medical conditions: a study of stroke victims reported that roughly 1 in 10 had visited a hospital less than 30 days before their stroke occurred. Of those patients, 1 in 4 were discharged with either no diagnosis or the diagnosis of a benign condition.

Anesthesia Errors

These types of errors occur when medical professionals fail to properly check equipment and monitor a patient’s vital signs and consciousness during surgery. When anesthesia is improperly administered or a device malfunctions, a patient can suffer a heart attack or stroke, permanent brain damage, psychological trauma, or death. Mistakes can also be made during the administration of spinal and epidural anesthesia, leading to complications such as nerve damage, seizures, spinal infections, and allergic reactions.

Medication Errors

Medications are used to stabilize or improve a patient’s condition. But when mistakes are made in prescribing and administering medications, serious harm can result. One study found that roughly 1.5 million people are harmed each year due to such errors. Patients can suffer if medications are prescribed that trigger allergic reactions or dangerously interact with other drugs, if they are given the wrong type or dosage of the medication, or if they are not given the medication according to the right schedule.

Birth Injuries

Preventable medical errors can occur during any stage of pregnancy and labor. These mistakes can lead to the child suffering lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy or even loss of life. In many cases, the medical error involves a failure to respond in a timely manner to complications such as fetal distress, excessive bleeding, uterine rupture, or umbilical cord entanglement.

Surgical Errors

There are multiple ways that errors during surgery can result in grievous harm or death to a patient, including but not limited to:

  • Failing to properly monitor the patient’s vital signs, diet, and medication before surgery
  • Puncturing or perforating an organ with a surgical tool during surgery
  • Failing to monitor the patient post-surgery and respond in a timely manner to complications like blood clots, infections, and illness

Some types of surgical errors are unfathomable to most people but occur surprisingly often. Such errors include performing surgery on the wrong site of a patient’s body or mistakenly leaving a surgical instrument or sponge inside the patient.

Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAI)

Hospital-acquired infections can lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as sepsis. Infections can result when the negligence of medical staff allows harmful bacteria and germs (such as MRSA) to spread to patients. This can occur in a number of ways, including:

  • When the physician doesn’t wash his/her hands (especially after contact with other patients)
  • “Double-gloving” during surgery
  • Using unsterilized surgical instruments
  • Not cleaning and disinfecting the facility
  • Failing to follow special handling and disposal precautions for items such as scalpels, needles, lab waste and blood

Patients in a hospital are always at high risk of infections under normal circumstances. Because of this, patients must be carefully monitored while hospitalized.

Emergency Room Errors

One of the leading types of emergency room errors involves diagnostic mistakes. This is particularly problematic when a patient is admitted to the ER with a life-threatening condition such as a heart attack or stroke, which may be misdiagnosed as far less serious conditions. Errors in the ER are often traced to overcrowding, understaffing, and poor medical training. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Failing to obtain a thorough description of the patient’s symptoms
  • Misreading tests
  • Failing to order appropriate tests
  • Failing to follow proper procedures
  • Miscommunication among medical staff during “hand-offs”

What to Do if You Suspect Medical Malpractice

Negligent medical treatment can result in thousands of dollars spent on additional health care and can potentially cause victims to suffer from permanent disabilities and chronic pain.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are complicated, and receiving compensation requires the expertise and experience of a knowledgeable and aggressive legal team. If you believe you’ve been the victim of medical negligence, our dedicated medical malpractice attorneys are here to help.

The Herbert Law Firm offers free, no-obligation case reviews and consultations to Chicagoans in need of experienced legal representation for their medical malpractice case.

Call us at 312-655-7660 for a free, no obligation consultation about your case.

To learn more about our medical malpractice services, please visit our website at