How Concerned Should You Be About Medical Mistakes?

Medical mistakes are the stuff of nightmares: operating on the wrong limb; bad drug reactions; instruments left behind. But they’re all too often an unfortunate reality. Reports suggest more than 250,000 people die per year due to medical errors, while millions more are harmed by drug-related mistakes. 

One Californian went through this horror firsthand. In April 2014, the 54-year-old woman had surgery to remove a tumor from her uterus at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, CA. Two weeks later, she had bruising and pain in her abdomen along with vaginal bleeding. A separate surgeon reportedly told her it was part of the healing process.

But at her 6-week visit, she complained of more pain. It was then that a bulb syringe was discovered in her abdomen, and she had surgery to remove it. 

Now, the California Department of Public Health has fined the hospital $28,500 for the mistake. In a statement, Marian Regional Medical Center said, “This was an isolated incident which occurred in 2014. Since then, procedural changes put in place have been successful and no other patient has experienced this complication.” 

Still, the idea that something like this could happen is a terrifying thought for anyone who’s ever been — or will ever be — on the operating table.

How Common Are Medical Mistakes?


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A 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. The researchers analyzed 8 years of data and concluded that more than 250,000 people die each year due to preventable medical mistakes. A 2013 study estimated the number at more than 400,000 per year.

Numbers from the CDC, however, don’t come to the same conclusion. The CDC reports that chronic respiratory disease — not medical error — is the No. 3 killer of Americans, causing about 150,000 deaths. The Johns Hopkins study authors say that’s because the CDC doesn’t include medical errors as a separate cause of death, and they call for this to change.  

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