Medical Mistakes Injure More Than 10% of Patients

Young woman doctor closes eyes with hands to her mouth, while a young male doctor sitting next to her looks preoccupied after they both realize a medical mistake

More Than 50% of Medical Errors That Cause Injury are Preventable, New Study Says

According to a recent study reported by NBC News, “more than 1 in 10 patients are harmed in the course of their medical care, and half of those injuries are preventable.” In many cases of avoidable medical mistakes, about 12% of patients suffer injuries so severe that they result in “permanent disability or death.” 

That information was published in the medical journal The BMJ last month. The study analyzed data from more than 300,000 patients, with the majority of them being adult patients. In total, 49% of the injuries were categorized as “mild,” while 36% were classified as “moderate.” Often, when medical mistakes are preventable, the injured patient may be able to file a medical malpractice claim.

According to Dr. Maria Panagioti, the lead author of the study and a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, “we need strategies in place to detect and correct the key causes of patient harm in health care.” Panagioti emphasized that the largest number of preventable patient injuries are tied to medical errors, making this type of mistake “one core area that preventative strategies could focus on.” Panagioti noted that the data came from various international records, but its findings are nevertheless still applicable to healthcare in the United States. Although medication errors accounted for the highest number of preventable injuries, close behind were surgical errors (about 23%) and health care infections (about 16%).

Dr. Albert Wu, a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said this new research is important for highlighting the continuing—and avoidable—problems associated with medical errors. As Wu clarified, “it’s a reminder that 20 years into our realization about the problems with patient safety, the rate of preventable harm caused by health care continues to be unacceptably high, causing a huge burden of unnecessary patient suffering and even death.” Wu described Panagioti’s study as “one of the largest . . . ever conducted on the frequency and severity of patient harm.” 

Learning More About Preventable Medical Errors

What are some of the most frequent types of medical mistakes? An article in Medscape cites the following as particularly harmful types of medical errors:

  • Anesthesia errors;
  • Fetal heart monitoring mistakes;
  • Wrong-site surgeries, including amputations;
  • Surgical errors involving leaving a foreign object (like a sponge) inside a patient;
  • Medication errors, including failure to account for a patient’s drug allergy;
  • Infections inside the hospital setting; and
  • Diagnostic errors, including failure to diagnose cancer in a timely manner.

 If you or someone you love sustained a serious or fatal injury as a result of a medical error, you may be able to seek compensation by filing a claim. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can speak with you about your case.


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