The most common medical errors: What you need to know

Visiting a doctor or hospital involves placing significant trust in medical professionals to provide appropriate care. However, instances occur where errors are made, leading to severe consequences for patients. Common mistakes include incorrect medication administration, delayed diagnosis, and surgical complications. Recognizing these problems, their frequency, and devising strategies to prevent them are critical steps toward enhancing patient safety.

What are medical errors?

Medical errors are mistakes in healthcare, causing adverse patient outcomes. Errors occur in diagnosis, treatment, and medication processes. Examples include wrong prescriptions, dosing mistakes, misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and communication lapses. Consequences range from minor issues to severe injury or death.

Concerned about medical errors? Connect with our network for expert legal guidance on how to navigate medical malpractice claims. Protect your rights with a free consultation today.

The top 5 medical errors

Medical errors are a big worry in healthcare, worldwide and in New York. They can cause death, so knowing how common they are is crucial for patients and providers.

  • Diagnostic errors

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnoses are leading causes of medical malpractice claims. In the broader U.S. context, misdiagnosis was responsible for 33% of medical malpractice allegations in 2014, with more than 100,000 Americans estimated to die or be permanently disabled every year due to diagnostic errors. Conditions most commonly misdiagnosed include cancer, vascular events, and infections​​.

  • Medication errors

Nearly 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, making medication errors a common issue. These can arise from improper dosages, interactions with other drugs, or pharmacy mistakes​​.

  • Surgical errors

Surgical errors are a major concern, with more than 200 million surgeries performed globally each year and at least 4,000 surgical errors occurring annually in the U.S. This includes wrong-site surgeries and surgical site infections​​.

  • Hospital-acquired infections

While specific statistics for New York were not highlighted, the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections as a medical error remains high, contributing significantly to patient morbidity and mortality.

  • Failure to treat

This error involves failing to administer appropriate treatment for diagnosed conditions, often due to miscommunication or oversight. While comprehensive New York-specific data is not readily available, it's acknowledged as a critical area of concern in medical malpractice.

Medical Malpractice in New York: A Statistical Overview

In New York, medical malpractice is a significant issue. In 2012, the state paid $763,088,250 for claims. This high amount highlights the gravity of errors. In 2008, 4,195 new cases were filed. This shows the persistent challenge of medical errors. From 1999 to 2008, claims only decreased by 1%. This indicates a need for ongoing safety improvements.

Facing the aftermath of a diagnostic error, medication mistake, or surgical complication? Our network of medical malpractice attorneys is here to support you. Reach out for expert legal advice and a free case review.

Other types of medical errors

Beyond the top five medical errors, the healthcare sector encounters a myriad of other mistake types that can significantly affect patient outcomes. Here's an overview of other common medical errors:

  • Anesthesia errors

These can range from administering too much or too little anesthesia to using the wrong type of anesthesia, leading to severe patient harm or even death.

  • Errors in obtaining informed consent

Patients must be fully informed about the risks and benefits of procedures. Failure to properly obtain informed consent can lead to legal and ethical issues.

  • Communication errors among healthcare staff

Miscommunication or lack of communication between healthcare professionals can result in the wrong treatment being administered, incorrect medication dosages, or surgical errors.

  • Labor and delivery errors

Mistakes during childbirth can result in harm to both the baby and the mother. These can include failure to monitor fetal distress, improper use of birthing tools, or not performing a necessary C-section.

  • Errors with medical devices

This can include malfunctioning equipment, improper use of medical devices, or using the wrong device for a procedure.

  • Failure to act on test results

Failing to follow up on test results can lead to a delay in treatment, worsening of the patient's condition, or incorrect treatment.

  • Premature discharge

Discharging a patient too early from the hospital can result in complications and readmission, affecting the patient's health outcomes.

  • Poor documentation

Inaccurate or incomplete patient records can lead to errors in medication, treatment plans, and surgical procedures.

  • Failure to perform adequate follow-up care

Lack of proper follow-up can lead to complications not being caught in time, resulting in patient harm.

Navigating a medical malpractice claim can be overwhelming. Let our network of dedicated attorneys simplify the process for you. From medication errors to surgical mishaps, we're here to help. Get in touch for a free consultation.

Prevention and patient advocacy

Preventing medical errors and advocating for patient rights are essential aspects of improving healthcare quality and safety. Here are strategies for prevention and how patients can advocate for themselves:

Prevention strategies

  • Implementing checklists

Medical facilities should use checklists for surgeries and other procedures to ensure all steps are followed, reducing the risk of errors.

  • Improving communication

Establishing clear lines of communication among healthcare providers can prevent misunderstandings that lead to errors. This includes standardized handoffs between shifts and departments.

  • Enhancing Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems

EHRs should be optimized to minimize errors in medication prescribing and to flag potential issues like allergies or interactions.

  • Regular training and education

Ongoing education for healthcare providers on the latest practices, technologies, and error prevention strategies is vital.

  • Patient involvement

Encouraging patients to be active participants in their care can help catch potential errors early. Patients should feel empowered to ask questions and express concerns.

  • Safety culture

Cultivating a culture that prioritizes patient safety over blame can encourage staff to report errors or near misses, leading to systemic improvements.

Patient advocacy

  • Ask questions

Patients should feel empowered to ask questions about their diagnoses, treatment options, medications, and any procedures being considered.

  • Bring a friend or family member

Having a second set of ears can help patients remember information and ask important questions.

  • Keep records

Patients should keep detailed records of their health information, including medications, allergies, past procedures, and medical history.

  • Medication checks

Patients should double-check all prescriptions and speak up if something doesn't seem right or if they experience side effects.

  • Research

Educating themselves about their condition and potential treatments allows patients to engage in more informed discussions with their healthcare providers.

  • Speak up about changes or errors

If a patient notices something is amiss or if their condition changes, it's crucial to communicate this to their healthcare team immediately.

  • Know your rights

Patients should be aware of their rights, including the right to informed consent and the right to confidentiality.

Medical errors can have devastating consequences. If you or a loved one has been affected, it's crucial to have the right legal representation. Contact our network of skilled attorneys for a comprehensive evaluation of your case.


Improving patient safety is directly linked to identifying and mitigating medical errors. Awareness of these errors is merely the first step towards prevention. It is imperative that healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, adhere to robust safety protocols, and patients actively participate in their treatment decisions. Open communication, mutual support, and a dedication to safety are essential in reducing the incidence of medical mistakes, ensuring the provision of necessary care. The endeavor to minimize medical errors is ongoing, demanding a collective commitment from all healthcare stakeholders to prioritize patient well-being.

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