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Addressing medical errors and complications

While patient safety is an important concern to New Mexico residents, national statistics indicate that the progress in reducing medical errors over the last 10 years has been limited. More obvious errors include surgery on wrong body part cases, issues for which specific protocols have been developed to reduce occurrences. However, many perceived complications can actually be medical errors as well. An adverse incident that could have been prevented is considered an error rather than a complication.

Experts note that there are three major factors contributing to medical errors. Training is one of the most important issues as residents may not be provided with the proper setting for obtaining enough experience and time to sufficiently practice the skills needed in their future careers. Fatigue is another significant issue contributing to errors in medical treatment. Studies indicate that there is an 83 percent greater risk of significant complications when surgery is performed by an individual after having slept less than six hours. Other studies suggest that insufficient sleep can double the rate of errors. Surgical error is the third factor contributing to high levels of adverse outcomes.

Although programs have been developed to reduce surgical errors through actions such as having a surgeon sign the site of surgery, some experts have found that these efforts are dismissed as insignificant by some practitioners. Addressing potential malpractice issues with wrong-site surgeries may seem straightforward, but discerning between complications and medical errors in other situations may require the insight of a legal professional who is experienced in the field of medical malpractice.

In instances involving adverse results in spite of careful adherence to treatment or surgery protocols, the outcome may truly be a complication. However, a lack of adherence to such protocols is more likely an error. A lawyer may be helpful in examining records to determine whether proper measures have been taken to limit adverse events.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "Patient safety means patients first", James H. Herndon, August 04, 2014

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