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New Mexico hospital patients at risk of various errors

Those who spend time in hospitals may already be wary of high-profile medical malpractice incidents, such as surgical errors. Experts, however, say that of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who perish from hospital mistakes each year, many die as a result of lesser-known errors that could have been prevented.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is part of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, notes that up to 20 percent of patients who visit the hospital for commonplace problems re-enter care no more than 30 days after initially being released. In some cases, assessment errors mean these patients suffer from infections and other issues that should have merited further attention. Hospitals with overworked nursing staff might leave patients weak and injury-prone by permitting excessive bed rest. In other incidents, hospitals administer the incorrect medications, incompatible drugs or too many antibiotics.

The AHRQ also highlights fall incidents as a major problem, citing the fact that around 1 million patients fall in U.S. hospitals annually. Patients are advised to press their doctors on details like why they should be prescribed antibiotics and whether their caregivers know about their personal fall risk. Patients should also be proactive about calling for nurses to help them maintain their daily walking schedules, meeting with staff to plan their discharges in advance and informing caregivers about the medicines they already take.

Although many health care practitioners and facilities argue that some incidents were unavoidable, courts may disagree. Hospitals and clinics that failed to take required or advised actions before subjecting patients to procedures could be found to be negligent. Poor management of a patient's medical condition could constitute malpractice if it was determined that the hospital or physician failed to exhibit the requisite standard of care.

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