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10 shocking, but common, medical errors

Any medical mistake can result in serious injury or fatality. Every day, hospitals, doctors and nurses must follow protocols and established standards of care to avoid the mistakes than can harm patients. To this end, hospitals are responsible for implementing policies that help to identify patient needs, prevent infection, and ensure that care properly administered. Unfortunately, in New York City and nationwide, common medical mistakes continue to haunt patient care.

Here are 10 common, but shocking, medical mistakes that have lead to malpractice claims:

  • Air bubbles. Air bubbles in the bloodstream can be fatal. If a patient's chest isn't sealed airtight after a chest tube is removed, a bubble can get sucked into the wound and cut off an air supply to the patient's lungs, heart, kidneys and brain.
  • Operation on the wrong body part. While this seems easily preventable, surgeons have often misread the chart or made improper marks to denote the correct side of the operation. Doctors and staff are responsible for maintaining and double-checking medical records.
  • "Doctors" who are not doctors. Just because a person says he or she is a doctor does not make it so. Patients should check independently online to ensure that their providers are properly licensed.
  • Deadly infections. If doctors or nurses fail to wash their hands, severe infections can be spread in a hospital environment. Nationwide, hospitals have implemented strict procedures to prevent patient infection.
  • Switching feeding tubes and chest tubes. While these tubes look similar, one is meant for air and one is meant for feeding. Switching tubes can result in serious and fatal injury.
  • Over- or under-anesthesia. An under-dose of anesthesia can leave the brain awake while muscles are frozen. Patients may be able to feel everything, including pain. Over-anesthesia can result in permanent brain or organ damage.
  • Emergency room patients being ignored. When hospitals, and therefore ERs, become overcrowded, patients with urgent needs can be overlooked and suffer serious consequences.
  • Misidentification of patient. Improper record keeping and negligence can result in treatment of the wrong patient. Before every procedure, staff should check your name, date of birth and the barcode on your wristband.
  • Forgetting surgical equipment. If the staff miscounts or fails to account for equipment used inside a patient during an operation, tools left behind can result in severe injury, infection, or death.
  • Lost patients. Nursing home patients or patients being treated for dementia or brain injury can be prone to wander. This could result in falls, hypothermia or other accident. Doctors and hospitals are responsible for keeping track of patients, especially those with dementia or brain injury.

Source: CNN, "10 shocking medical mistakes," John Bonifield, Nov. 5, 2012