What is a Hospital Error?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
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Hospital error is a topic very few people want to consider. Many people will spend at least a little time in a hospital to deliver a baby, to be treated for a serious illness, to get surgery or for other reasons. The idea that a hospital does not always perform its job to the fullest and may risk patient health or well being by making a mistake is certainly not pleasant. Yet hospital errors do occur, sometimes with great frequency. Understanding them is of great use in prevention and, if necessary, litigation.

With all of the different services offered in a hospital, it’s not hard to understand the types of hospital error that might occur. These could include mistakes made by a doctor in directly treating or ordering treatment for a patient. Nurses may make mistakes too, in improper handling of patients, inappropriate medication dosing, or failure to perform needed care on schedule. Hospital pharmacies may dispense the wrong dosage of meds, and all of the related departments like x-ray, profusion and et cetera could commit errors.


The most common types of hospital error tend to occur when quality of care is not high enough. When people get blood borne infections, particularly the deadly methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), this is usually considered an error that could have been prevented with better sanitation and handwashing. Similarly, development of bedsores while in a hospital is typically viewed as the hospital’s fault because workers did not adequately inspect and take care of the patient’s skin while the patient was bedridden.

In some cases, governments have moved to refuse to pay for certain types of hospital error in order to discourage practices that are faulty. To further reduce problems that can sicken or even cause the deaths of people, many hospitals put into place programs or electronic systems that are designed to lower incidence of accidents and problems. Some hospitals are even required to report all errors publicly, and quickly find that this reporting can greatly affect them economically. People typically don’t want to use a hospital that is reporting high numbers of problems.

While punitive measures to reduce hospital error are considered valuable to some, others view this as only contributing to the problem. Errors are often viewed as a systemic issue that arises most from people suffering from overwork. Taking money away from the hospital, according to some, may only make it more likely that it won’t be able to provide the staff it needs to do things properly. The counterargument to this is that many very well funded hospitals have made ghastly mistakes, and if these were due to understaffing, the cause was not underfunding.

Though not theoretically the job of a patient’s family, perhaps the best way to combat mistakes that can be life-threatening is to have a knowledgeable family member or friend on hand at all times (day and night), to care for the patient. Hospitals tend not to appreciate this, but especially in the prevention of things like MRSA or bedsores, a patient guardian can do much to make sure hospital workers wash hands prior to touching a patient, and move the patient at regular intervals.

It’s also possible to acquire a little medical knowledge and make certain that medicines given are correct and at the appropriate dosage. As stated, guardian behavior isn’t always met with great happiness. On the other hand, preventing an error through watchfulness of this type ultimately serves the patient and the hospital.



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