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The Societal Costs of Medical Errors: The Ten Most Expensive Medical Mistakes

Attempting to measure the cost of medical mistakes is not an easy feat, since the most sensationalized medical errors, brought to the public's attention in jury trials, only account for about 10 percent of medical malpractice cases.

One medical researcher recently tried to quantify what hospital errors cost society. By adding the cost of care following a medical mistake to the loss of income resulting from the injury, he was able to collect costs that could easily be compared to one another (costs that did not rely on the differences in tort law and punitive damages caps from state to state). Based on his analysis, he uncovered common medical mistakes that can lead to very expensive and severe injuries, such as brain trauma and quadriplegia.

Seven of the 10 most expensive medical malpractice cases resulted in severe brain injuries. These brain injuries occurred in a variety of different ways, from birth trauma and a bad fall to a malfunctioning shunt and toxic doses of a blood anti-coagulant. The remainder of the top 10 list is rounded out by errors resulting in quadriplegia and death.

The most common medical errors that lead to these catastrophic injuries included:

  • A failure to run the proper tests, which often lead to a missed diagnosis. In some cases the tests were run, but the healthcare provider did not properly follow-up with the test results.
  • Delayed treatment, which could have been avoided since the injured individual sought medical assistance at the right time. Also common was an avoidable delay in diagnosis.
  • No precautions taken after medications were administered
  • Inadequate monitoring following a routine procedure, treatment or after medication was given
  • Improper preparation for a procedure
  • Improperly used medication, including the wrong type of drug or the incorrect dosage

For the most part, these instances of medical negligence or hospital error could have been prevented had the treating physician or healthcare professional taken the time to double check diagnosis or properly follow-up with the patient after a procedure or with test results. Proper monitoring and timely treatment could have led to very different results in each of these ten cases.

Source: The Ten Most Expensive Medical Errors

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