Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals work hard every day to cure peoples' illnesses, help prevent diseases and seemingly perform miracles to prolong lives. On occasion, despite the best efforts of physicians and other health care professionals, disease, illness and accidents can get the best of patients.

Yet, sometimes preventable errors worsen injuries, prolong illnesses or even cause death. When these types of mistakes occur, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals should be held accountable for their action or inaction through medical malpractice lawsuits.

Being aware of the context in which common medical errors occur may prevent such harm or even save your life.

Medication Errors

Due to often-preventable mistakes like poor penmanship or confusion over medications that sound alike, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies reports that medication errors harm approximately 1.5 million people every year. While there may be little patients can do to improve the legibility of doctors' handwriting, patients can take steps to reduce the possibility of medication errors, including:

  • Keeping track of medication doses and frequency
  • Informing doctors of all current medications
  • Asking doctors and pharmacists questions about drug interactions and side effects

Anesthesia Errors

Because anesthesiologists play a vital role in the surgical process, when small errors are made the consequences can be catastrophic for patients. Anesthesia errors can lead to brain damage, permanent injury and death.

Prior to surgery, anesthesiologists may make mistakes such as:

  • Improper evaluation of patients' airways
  • Failure to properly review or evaluate patients' medical histories
  • Failure to deliver drugs properly

During surgery, anesthesiologists may make mistakes such as:

  • Improper intubation
  • Administration of too much anesthetic
  • Failure to monitor patients' vital signs
  • Failure to be prepared for complications

Surgical Errors

The Archives of Surgery reports that every year up to 2,700 wrong-site surgeries occur in America. Wrong-site surgeries, however, are only the tip of the surgical-error iceberg. Common surgical errors that injure patients include:

  • Failure to recognize and repair cut blood vessels
  • Inadequate tumor removal
  • Puncture of internal organs
  • Operations inappropriately performed by medical students, interns and residents
  • Foreign objects such as sponges, drains or medical instruments left in patients' bodies

Birthing Mistakes

During the birthing process - prenatal care, labor and delivery, and neonatal care - medical mistakes can lead to birth-related injuries if obstetricians are not paying close attention to the conditions of mothers and babies.

Prenatal-care errors commonly include:

  • Failure to identify fetal growth abnormalities
  • Failure to diagnose maternal medical conditions, including Rh-factor incompatibility, hypertension or preeclampsia
  • Failure to detect potential birth defects

Labor and delivery mistakes commonly include:

  • Failure to detect fetal distress
  • Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors
  • Delay in performing cesarean sections
  • Failure to recognize or respond to emergency conditions such as uterine rupture or placental abruption

Neonatal-care errors commonly include:

  • Delayed or improper resuscitation of newborns
  • Delayed diagnosis of sepsis
  • Delayed or misdiagnosis of newborn illnesses or other medical conditions

HMO Issues

The typical HMO-physician relationship involves a "capitation contract." In such a contract, a doctor is paid a set very small fee for every HMO patient enrolled in the practice. The preset minimal fee incentivizes doctors to increase the volume of patients in the practice.

By seeing more patients, doctors engage in a trade-off that usually does not benefit patients or their health. Increased volume means that doctors have to reduce the amount of time that is spent examining or discussing health concerns with patients. This can lead to misdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, inadequate treatment and other mistakes.

Medical-Board Protection

Medical boards, the groups that oversee physician licensing and discipline, may be seen as patient protectors. But this might not be completely true.

Medical boards often conduct business behind closed doors, publicly releasing little information about the sanctions they impose or the history of doctors that they discipline. Information about a sanction may be released to the public, however, this might not be a full set of facts; information that may affect patient care directly may be missing.

Information about doctors such as arbitration awards and judgments against them, suspensions, substance-abuse issues, or attendance at off-shore for-profit medical schools may be withheld from the public. By keeping this information secret, a doctor with a history of creating dangerous situations for or actually injuring patients may still be allowed to practice medicine, with you or a loved one as a patient.

Speak With a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Suffering an injury at the hands of a medical professional, a person whose hands are meant to heal, can be devastating. People hurt by doctors, nurses or other medical professionals may be entitled to receive compensation for the injuries they suffer. Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit to seek compensation for medical bills, rehabilitation or long-term care costs, pain and suffering, and lost wages.