Death By Medical Error…
Written by Lisa Heidrich, RN, CHP, ONC, CCM, QRP, LNC 2/17/2019
The thought of death by medical error sends a chill up my spine.
The truth is that medical errors are rising in the ranks of the five top reasons for death in
America. Medical errors kill twice the Americans as do car accidents and breast cancer. Yet,
death by medical error is never a diagnosis you’ll see written on any hospital document, skilled
nursing facility flow chart or rehabilitation progress report. You won’t see this listed as a cause
The Coroner’s office does not even hold an ICD10 code for it.
Trending now on social media and across the web: various health care reporting investigators
are citing and sensationalizing the United States.
This makes my CHEST HURT…
As a veteran nurse of 35 years, I’d squash such malarkey, shake it off as social media banter.
Truth be known, I’ve seen more death by medical error then I wish to acknowledge in my work
as a Legal Nurse Consultant, and from reading today’s news as a regular human being. You’ve
seen the broadcasts “wrong limb removed.”
Yes, this happens, thus new protocols were put into place to have a pre-surgical “time out” and
the surgeon must initial an operative site before one blade touches flesh. People make
mistakes and the media sensationalizes it. It’s becoming an epidemic.
Furthermore, when I was younger my dad was prescribed high blood pressure medication. He
took these meds for years – every morning after his breakfast, after his coffee, every day, same
time, same place, same medication. He purchased his medication at the same pharmacy from
the same pharmacist in the same amber bottle UNTIL THIS experience.
My father, a retired US Army Colonel, served for 28 years counseling soldiers and civilians
across the world. Super smart, astute, kind hearted, understanding and not because he was my
dad, he was a gentleman and a scholar. I never completed a report or homework assignment
without his EAGLE EYES reviewing it once, twice, thrice and yours truly re-writing and redoing
until every “I’ was dotted, every “T” was crossed, no spelling errors were identified and I learned
at least three neoteric terminologies.
Not because he was mean; he wasn’t. He was intelligent and imparting, infusing intelligence into
me. I digress to say one day my dad came home from his usual pharmacy with his usual bottle
and presumable usual pills of antihypertensive variety. NOW these appeared different. He
shrugged it off. “Sometimes” they changed the vendor for the medication, just like the military
did; whomever procured the best price received the business. This made sense to him. So he
was not alarmed. He began taking his med the very next morning. After his breakfast and
coffee, he experienced rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, ringing in his ears, and
perspiration personified. Yep, you guessed it. He was given the WRONG medication, albeit,
from the same pharmacist, at the same pharmacy, in the same amber bottle. What happened?
Medical error happened…simply explained: his bottle was mislabeled. THIS WAS NOT HIS
MEDICATION. “Oh and by the way, we are very sorry about this,” was the explanation the
pharmacist gave to my mom. This, from her local pharmacy.
Dad had been given Synthroid, a powerful thyroid medication! Now some woman – who knows,
maybe some kid? – or some other innocent bystander with perfectly normal blood pressure
received my dad’s antihypertensive while expecting…I don’t know what? Maybe antibiotics or
birth control pills?
Yes, a death defying oops.
My mom settled out of court with a national pharmacy just by sending her own hand written
letter detailing the situation.
Why should this scare YOU?
268 medical errors occur every day, resulting in death.
Yes, every day. 268 per 24hour day. EVERY DAY.
That’s 98,000 annually “death by medical error.” Medical professionals are in practice, it’s true.
But practice makes perfect, right? That’s what my piano teacher always said.
ALL are preventable medical errors, which are usually super basic blunders, such as attaching
the label to the wrong medication bottle. Or basic Nursing 101, check your patient for
medication allergies. We find most allegations are based around the fundamentals of medical
training. Right patient, right medication, right dose, right route, right time, right documentation,
right reason and right response.
Fortunately for my dad, he did not die as a direct result of this medical error. But his health
status definitely diminished.
Stop spending hours slogging through medical jargon. Spend more time working on legal strategy.
Hire a Legal Nurse Consultant!
HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019!
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