Report shows health care errors can be hard to prevent

Some Pittsburgh residents may receive a wrong diagnosis or experience another medical error during their lifetime. These errors, such as the failure to diagnose cancer, are serious, and some of them even result in death.

A report issued by the Institute of Medicine shows that many medical mistakes have resulted in unacceptable harm to patients. They determined that most of the harm that they saw happen to patients was preventable. Examples included a doctor who misdiagnosed a woman with an asthma attack when she really had a blood clot on her lungs. She later died. Or an ER doctor who misread an X-ray and misdiagnosed a man with an upper respiratory infection instead of pneumonia. He died as a result as well. And a newborn baby suffered from preventable brain damage when doctors failed to test his levels of bilirubin even though his skin was yellow from head to toe.

The report listed a number of reasons why these mistakes keep happening, including poor communication and collaboration and a culture that doesn’t encourage practitioners to learn from their mistakes. One recommendation to reduce the number of errors includes requiring facilities to monitor how they are diagnosing patients. They also suggest the federal government conduct autopsies to determine if what the patient died from is what they were diagnosed with. Patients should also feel comfortable asking their health care professionals questions regarding their care and seek out a second opinion if necessary.

Medical mistakes can happen to anyone at any time. No one expects that their doctor will do something to cause them harm, but it happens every day. When a patient receives a wrong diagnosis or is the subject of another error, it can result in delayed treatment and even death.

Source:, “Study: No easy cure for sometimes fatal doctor errors”, John Bonifield, Sept. 22, 2015