Seniors More at Risk for Misdiagnosis & Medical Errors


January 18, 2016

Non Profit Institute of Medicine Panel Says Change is Urgently Needed

A series of reports dating back from 2000 to September of 2015, from the prestigious panel at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has been drawing attention to the serious under reporting of misdiagnosis and diagnostic errors occurring all across the U.S. today. The importance of getting an accurate and timely diagnosis goes without saying, but the truth is most everyone will experience a diagnostic error or misdiagnosis at least once in their lifetime. These errors can be very costly, resulting both in patient deaths and paid malpractice law suits and must be addressed immediately particularly in view of President Obama’s healthcare mandates on improving the quality of care, improving Medicare patient satisfaction rates and reducing hospital readmission rates.

Experts on the panel at the IOM have been closely examining data collected over the years of study. Included in the report are some astounding figures, such as the figures in the report stating that Americans suffered approximately 12 million diagnostic errors a year. According to the report these errors represent an unacceptable number of patients being harmed in all patient care settings; this would include hospitals, trauma centers, out patient care surgery centers, doctor’s office visits, and urgent care facilities.

The Journal of Patient Safety conducted a study in 2013 which estimates that medical errors account for anywhere between 200,000 and 440,000 patient deaths each year. The evidence based study only referenced deaths, the number of medical errors that did not result in death may be as many as 40,000 per day. These figures call for urgency in finding solutions to the often preventable injuries and deaths.

What Are the Causes of Medical Error to Seniors?

A study which included more than 12,500 Medicare patients revealed that one in five of the patients who had an average age of 76, received medical injuries when care was being delivered to them. The causes of injury range from allergic reactions to medications, being given incorrect medications and receiving improper treatment which in turn caused complications to a pre-existing medical condition. These injuries occurred as a result of the medical care or management of their treatment, not as a result of their initial cause for seeking health care and were preventable.

The Medicare patients studied who incurred injuries during their treatment process had almost double the rate of death within a year of their injury as those who participated in the study, but did not suffer a medical injury. Nineteen percent of the patients incurred their injuries as a result of medical care while in the hospital. Another fact revealed in the study was that two-thirds of the patients who suffered medical error injuries received the treatment as an outpatient, in settings such as doctor’s offices or outpatient facilities.

The study noted other factors that increased the risk of medical errors occurring such as:

  • People with lower incomes
  • Elderly people
  • Disabled people
  • Males
  • People with chronic medical conditions (risk increased for each chronic condition the patient had)

What You Can Do to Prevent Medical Error Injury

  1. Ask a family member or knowledgeable friend to act as your healthcare advocate, perhaps staying with you while you’re hospitalized and making certain you understand your diagnosis and treatment plan. This would include outpatient care and doctor office visits. Two heads are better than one, especially if you are sick or in pain.
  2. Ask that your healthcare providers wash their hands before treating you.
  3. Ask questions and get answers. Speak up if you do not understand anything your healthcare providers are telling you, repeat your questions until you fully understand your diagnosis, treatment plan and any medications or procedures you will be having done.
  4. Go over your scheduled operation with your surgeon, double check which limb or organ is to be operated on, some patients have their doctor mark them with a magic marker to avoid an error.
  5. Check to make sure you are being given the right medication and dosage with every med you are asked to take or is being administered.

While the authors of these studies and panels have no quick fix for the existing problem of medical error injuries one recommendation they can all agree on is that patients need to be more vocal in their treatment and recovery of their health care. Communicate your needs, concerns, problems and even solutions to your healthcare staff and do not be afraid to speak up if you feel something is wrong.