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Can identifying medical negligence keep it from happening again?

Oregon residents might have seen media reports that errors by doctors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Medical negligence takes the lives of somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 patients each year. Numerous studies have been done to determine the mistakes that potentially make being under the care of a physician a hazard to patients' health.

One recent study indicates that breakdowns in communication, errors in diagnosis and poor judgment -- along with not having the adequate skills -- are the most often cited reasons that patients suffer harm at the hands of their doctors. Many medical facilities also have systems in place that are designed to ensure the safety of patients, but a failure to follow established protocols also leads to mistakes. Sadly, one source believes that these errors occur more often than anyone realizes because they are under-reported.

Part of the problem with identifying medical mistakes is that death certificates only list a cause of death, not the circumstances that led to it. For example, if a patient complaining of chest pain is sent home with a diagnosis of acid reflux and then suffers a fatal heart attack, that would not be readily evident from a coroner's report. Furthermore, family members might not connect an emergency room or doctor visit with the death.

For Oregon residents who do see a connection between inadequate medical care and the death of a loved one, filing a medical malpractice claim might be in order. Further investigation into whether medical negligence occurred could provide the evidence that surviving family members need in order to hold a defendant or defendants liable for the death. The results of a successful claim could provide damages to grieving family members and keep the same mistake from happening again.

Source:, "Medical errors: Honesty is the best policy", Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Oct. 3, 2016

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