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Errors in Hospital Care


Michael Joseph Pistoria

, MEng, DO, Lehigh Valley Hospital - Coordinated Health

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2023

When people are in the hospital, errors in care can occur. In the hospital, care is complicated, the environment is stressful, many different people and systems have to work together, and health care professionals can be asked to work under conditions that cause fatigue and/or sleep deprivation. As a result, hospital care is not as safe as it should be. Some experts contend that each year in the United States, preventable medical errors contribute to the death of up to 250,000 people (although not all experts agree). Medical errors are an important cause of death in the United States.

Errors may include the following:

  • Giving people the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or a medication they are allergic to

  • Scheduling tests for or giving medications to the wrong person

  • Doing a surgical procedure on the wrong side or wrong part of the body

  • Overlooking important test results

Over the past decade, hospitals in the United States have made much progress in designing systems to identify and prevent errors in care.

However, one of the best ways to help prevent errors is for people to participate in their care by asking questions and learning about their treatment. Steps they can take include

  • Providing an accurate list of the medications they take at home

  • Providing a list of their medication allergies

  • Understanding why certain medications are being given in the hospital and why tests are being done

  • Learning the names of the medications that are prescribed and given to them, as well as the doses and number of times the medications are given each day

  • Each time a nurse gives them a medication, asking the nurse to tell them the name of the medication and the reason it is being given

  • Asking about the results of any tests that have been done

  • Asking health care professionals to wash their hands before doing an examination

  • Asking hospital staff members to address them by name

  • Getting a written list of medications they are supposed to take and of follow-up instructions when they are discharged

  • Making sure that they, their doctor, and their surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done during any surgical procedure

  • Asking questions if something does not seem right

  • Asking a family member or friend to be with them and to ask questions on their behalf

People have a right to know if there has been an error in their care. If there is an error, they should ask the doctor or nurse to

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