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Preventable medical errors still prevalent

A statement released by the federal Department of Health and Human Services indicates that preventable medical errors cause 200,000 or more deaths every year in Pennsylvania and across the country. The definition of a medical error has improved in recent years and has become more expansive. Generally speaking, medical errors can be divided into two categories.

The first type of medical error includes situations in which the health care provider's intent was good, but there was a problem with the execution. Examples would be leaving an implement in the patient's body following surgery or the occurrence of an infection that was preventable. The second type of medical error is one where the health care provider's intent was wrong. Making an incorrect diagnosis falls into this latter category.

The Institute of Medicine largely focused on medical errors of the first type in its efforts to cut the number of medical errors by 50% in a five-year period. Those efforts began 20 years ago following an Institute of Medicine report called "To Err is Human," which asserted that medical errors claimed more lives than breast cancer. Still, recent research shows that preventable harm occurs with high frequency in hospitals. Forty percent of those who responded to a national hospital safety culture survey said management seemed to care about the safety of patients only following an adverse event.

Preventable medical errors can result in extreme harm to patients. Individuals who have suffered injured due to mistakes on the part of doctors, nurses or health care institutions might be entitled to recover for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses or other damages. An attorney who practices personal injury law might help in such cases by gathering documentary evidence, interviewing witnesses, deposing experts or otherwise working to build a case for trial. An attorney may be able to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with at-fault parties.

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