People make mistakes. Unfortunately, in a medical environment, mistakes can cause deaths. Most hospital errors that cause deaths occur when a mistake is made in the early stages or diagnosis and treatment, which then go unnoticed and uncorrected for a long time.
One of the most common causes of deaths in hospitals is incorrect diagnosis. Particularly in the case of cancer, early diagnosis directly relates to successful treatment. Cancers are often misdiagnosed when they begin as aches or pains. Back pain in particular is often diagnosed as a host of much more common ailments, such as slipped-disks, and bigger problems like cancer are only looked into once the problem has progressed a long way. Serious illnesses such as meningitis and lupus are often misdiagnosed as flu. In the case of these illnesses, symptoms can vary widely and many of the symptoms are flu-like. The problem is that, in most cases, these symptoms will connect to less serious illnesses and a correct diagnosis can only be made once additional symptoms appear – by this point, the patient will be in greater danger. In the medical field, this is referred to as a ‘No-Fault Error’ because the diagnosis given is likely to have been the most logical one, which in 99% of cases would be correct.
Another common mistake, which often connects to incorrect diagnosis, is incorrect medication. Commonly, if an illness has first been misdiagnosed incorrectly, medicines will be prescribed that will have no effect on the actual problem. In the worst cases, incorrect medicines can even exasperate the genuine ailment. Another error that occurs is prescription’s being misunderstood by the pharmacist. Everyone has heard that doctors have appalling handwriting, but in some cases this leads to genuinely dangerous mistakes when pharmacists misunderstand prescriptions.
Surgical errors happen worryingly often. Most commonly, these involve accidentally leaving sponges or instruments inside a patient. Sponges are left most commonly because, once saturated with blood, they become difficult to spot and can be mistaken for body tissue. Usually, the discomfort that this causes means that the mistake is recognised and rectified quickly, but there is a risk of the patient developing TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome). TSS is a rare bacterial condition, which can be triggered by the presence of foreign, non-degradable objects in the body. TSS causes the release of large amounts of poisonous toxins into the body.
Lack of appropriate cleaning in hospitals is an understated cause of death. It is inappropriate or insufficient cleaning that contributes to the development and spread of superbugs such as MRSA. Because viruses adapt and change so quickly, it is vitally important that hospitals focus on thorough, organised cleaning. If even a small area of a hospital is overlooked, bugs can be contracted by patients. Once a bug has infected a patient, it becomes more easily contagious and this leads to fast spread of dangerous illnesses. Likewise, cross-contamination is a worryingly common cause of death. Hospital staff can unthinkingly pass illnesses from one patient to another by touch. This is a particular risk for patients with immune-damaging illnesses such as cancer, hepatitis or AIDs, where a usually minor illness can cause death.