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How to Prevent Medical Errors & Five Common Ones to Watch Out For

It can’t be understated the danger medical errors pose to patients. Studies estimate that roughly a quarter of a million deaths each year can be attributed to medical errors; only cancer and heart disease take more lives.

However, medical errors are almost never the result of deliberate actions taken by a healthcare professional; medical errors occur most often due to a combination of human and systemic errors. Medical errors will likely never be fully eliminated; however, hundreds of thousands of the medical errors recorded each year are preventable.

Reducing these preventable medical errors is critical to improving patient outcomes, working efficiently, and protecting yourself and your organization from liability.

What is a Medical Error?

Medical errors refer to any form of medical care or treatment that causes an adverse effect in patients, regardless of whether the patient notices or is harmed by it.

A medical error could go unnoticed by a patient and have no consequences, or it could be something that permanently alters or even ends the patient’s life. Innocuous or not, medical errors must be mitigated to achieve ideal health outcomes for patients.

With that in mind, let’s look at five common medical errors, and ways physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can prevent these costly mistakes.

1. Skipped or Missed Assessments

Skipped or missed medical assessments can lead to medical errors. For example, women may be more vulnerable to heart attacks, because complaints of chest pain are frequently thought to be symptoms of anxiety or stress, rather than heart disease. As a result, physicians might skip the proper tests that would reveal heart disease.

Adhering to best practices and policies is the best method to avoid missing appropriate assessments. Physicians, physician assistants, and nurses should always avoid intuition-based diagnoses and instead follow differential diagnostic procedures and evidence-based treatments.

2. Adverse Drug Events

Adverse drug events occur when a patient receives the wrong medication, too much medication, a medication they’re allergic to, or any medication that causes them harm. Adverse drug events can be a result of action-based errors such as a physician writing a typo on a prescription, misreading a label, or memory-based errors like forgetting a patient’s allergies.

Healthcare professionals taking steps toward mitigating adverse drug events and medication errors might implement practices like adhering to comprehensive checkpoints prior to administering any medication, using digital programs to verify that a medication matches its patient, and following clear, user-friendly medication-labeling policies.

3. Surgical Site Infections

Surgical procedures are becoming increasingly common in the U.S., and surgical site infections are increasing as well. These infections, which can be costly for medical practitioners, are often preventable by following best practices.

By only administering prophylactic and preoperative antimicrobial agents when appropriate, removing hair only when necessary, and maintaining glucose control following major heart operations, surgical site infections can be limited. Additionally, traditional practices for maintaining cleanliness, such as excluding patients with existing infections, stopping patient tobacco use before surgery, and using sterile instruments can also reduce the risk of surgical site infections.

4. Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis is one of the most common and most costly medical errors physicians make. Whether it be due to a lack of diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or an incorrect diagnosis, misdiagnosis can lead to worse patient outcomes and make organizations vulnerable to lawsuits and various other liabilities.

A constant state of vigilance and evidence-based diagnosis and treatment can help physicians, physician assistants, and nurses mitigate misdiagnosis, as well as improve communication between an organization’s medical professionals.

5. Communication Errors

Communication is a challenge for every organization, but for physicians, physician assistants, and nurses, the stakes are much higher. Common communication errors include missing documentation, a failure to consult or update records, misreading or mishearing directions, and unclear expectations during client handoffs.

Making communication between medical professionals a system with various points of verification can reduce communication errors and increase organizational clarity. Computerized systems can be put in place to verify information or create checklists that can be updated by numerous physicians in real time. Handoff discussions should make it explicitly clear who is responsible for a patient and what their needs are. Doing so can prevent easily avoidable medical errors.

Continuing Medical Education is Essential for Preventing Medical Errors

The majority of medical errors can be avoided by vigilance, attention to detail, and awareness. At the end of the day, no matter how many systems are put in place, it’s each individual healthcare professional’s duty to ensure the right steps are being taken for the right patient.

Continuing medical education (CME) exists to help physicians, nurses, and physician assistants hone fundamental knowledge, learn new techniques and developments within the field, and improve their leadership skills. Each learning outcome can help reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes.

For physicians who want to get the most out of their CME experience, Continuing Education Company is the go-to CME provider. Whether a physician is looking for an in-person or online CME experience, CEC’s quality stands out. CEC’s in-person conferences are held at scenic, family-friendly locations throughout America, and their on-demand CME courses offer video content of unmatched quality and production value.

To experience the CEC Difference yourself, browse our upcoming in-person conferences, check out CEC’s full online CME course catalog, and see how much you can save when you purchase an entire collection!

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