A friend recently asked me, “What is the most common medical mistake you see?” The truth is, there are many, many ways people are harmed in our health care system. It is difficult to believe, but medical mistakes kill and injure hundreds of thousands of people a year. We’ve seen errors occur in many different ways. Most of the time, the mistakes can be attributed to either the doctor being in a hurry or medical staff not having proper training and oversight.

There are several examples I can cite to explain what I mean. Our office has had cases where a radiologist recommended further diagnostic testing of what appeared to be a small tumor in a CT scan. The doctor’s office note following the CT scan said, “informed patient CT scan normal.” The patient later developed pancreatic cancer.

We’ve also had a case where a father and son have the same name, same disease, and go to the same doctor who prescribes their medication. However, the father’s dose of medication is twice that of the son’s dose. Tragically, the nurse pulled the father’s chart and sent the dosing instruction off to the pharmacy for the son’s prescription refill.

We’ve seen cases where a client became very sick, had difficulty breathing, and went to the emergency room. She was intubated with an endotracheal tube. However, the ER doctor intubated into her esophagus, the part of the throat that goes to her stomach, not her lungs. The ER team never realized the mistake until the woman died and the failed intubation was found during autopsy. During depositions, we learned that a very simple, well known device known as an “End Tidal Co2 detector” that could have confirmed proper placement of the intubation tube was sitting on the counter, unused, because the doctor didn’t ask for it.

We’ve seen cases where men in their fifties go to their family doctor for routine exams every year, but are never told they need a colonoscopy. Often patients go to the ER with classic symptoms of stroke, but are not properly diagnosed. One of the worst cases we’ve seen was when an otherwise normal pregnancy ended in tragedy because the nursing staff in the labor and delivery wing did not know how to properly read fetal heart monitoring strips.

The ways people can be harmed in our healthcare system go on and on. Healthcare providers need to slow down and really think about the patient in front of them, not anything else. Medical assistants need better training and more supervision. And ultimately, we must be our own healthcare advocates, both for ourselves and our family members.