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Preventable Errors in Medical Treatment: Can We Stop a Growing Trend?

Published October 31, 2014 by Scott Gottlieb, Injury Law Attorney
Medical malpractice

Preventable errors are a growing trend in the medical industry. The number of preventable errors in medical treatments is already far above what most industries would consider as acceptable levels. Even though medical malpractice suits are abundant, no major decline in preventable errors is evident nor is any resolution in sight.

Emergency-room physician Brian Goldman believes he has the answer. Goldman attributes this growing trend to the medical industry’s culture of denial and shame preventing doctors from not only being able to learn from their mistakes, but from feeling safe to admit their mistakes in the first place.

The Economic Impact of Preventable Medical Errors

As any successful business owner will tell you, the future success of a business depends heavily on the ability of its owners and employees to continuously look for ways to cut costs, upgrade quality control, improve performance and increase efficiency in all day-to-day operations. Failing to do so puts businesses at risk and ends up costing a lot of money.

The same holds true for hospitals and other medical institutions. An article published on claims that in 2008 preventable medical errors cost the U.S. more than $19.5 billion.

Medical Errors: A Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

According to a study recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety, between 210,000 and 440,000 patients die each year as a result of some type of preventable adverse event (PAE) occurring during hospitalization. This makes medical errors a leading cause of death in the United States.

It does not matter whether a doctor’s error was a result of an error of commission, error of omission, error of communication, error of context, or diagnostic error – the implications are the same. If a doctor or other medical profession fails to treat a patient according to the accepted standards of practice within the medical community, he or she can be held liable for injuries caused.

Why Doctors Admitting Their Mistakes Is Useful

Children are taught at a young age that it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from those mistakes and not make them again. As this article in The Washington Post makes clear, “Medical errors are hard for doctors to admit, but it’s wise to apologize to patients.”

Doctors who admit their mistakes will have much better doctor-patient relationships. People trust doctors and other medical professionals who are honest, and who are willing to admit when they are wrong.

It could take many mistakes to learn about a bigger problem. A doctor who mistakenly gives the wrong prescription to a patient may find a much broader situation exists, which, if fixed, could prevent this type of error from affecting and harming others in the future.


  • Brian Goldman. Doctors Make Mistakes, Can We Talk About That? com.
  • “Medical Errors Are Hard for Doctors to Admit, But It’s Wise to Apologize to Patients,” Washington Post, May 27, 2013.
  • “Economics of Health Care Quality and Medical Errors,” Journal of Health Care Finance, Fall 2012.
  • “New Evidence-Based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care,” Journal of Patient Safety, Sept. 2013.

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