Medical errors are a severe problem on the US social agenda. They are the third leading cause of death in the country, claiming more than 250,000 lives annually (Sorrell, 2017). Death due to medical error is recognized as clinical death caused by inadequately qualified personnel, error of care, systemic defect, or preventable adverse effects. This includes computer breakdowns, confusion over the doses or types of drugs given to patients, and surgical complications that are not diagnosed.
There are many tragic stories of people facing clinical errors. One of these cases is described in a video dedicated to a little girl who was battling cancer. A touching video depicts grief-stricken parents who lost their daughter to drug confusion and, as a consequence, a lethal dosage of 23.4% sodium chloride solution, resulting in fatal consequences for the child (Penn, 2010). After this incident, a law was passed that became known as Emily’s law (in honor of the deceased girl). The law is intended to regulate the activities of pharmacy technicians. I confess, even though I have already heard about medical errors both from literature and the media and in my social circle, this video showing the stories of a particular girl made me realize how real and tangible the problem is. After all, Emily is no exception to the norm, but rather her case demonstrates a critical flaw in the health care system. Overall, the video is very personal and conveys an important message: this can happen to anyone, given the death rates from medical errors in the United States.
A similar incident happened with a famous American actor, Dennis Quaid. The actor’s twins were on the verge of death due to the wrong dosage twice applied to the infants already weak from infection. As it turned out later, the medical error occurred because the mixed drugs are very similar, starting from the shape and color of the jar and ending with the font (TMIT [TMIT1], 2012). I had not even thought before that such a primitive accident in the similarity of drugs could result in fatal consequences. In this regard, I was a little scared by the fact that patients trust specialists as much as possible in the hope of curing their illness. At the same time, ineffective regulation by the distribution of medicinal devices threatens life and health. People cannot even imagine what kind of substance is in their bodies until they feel disturbing symptoms.
In the same video, we learn about other examples of primitive medical errors. Again, this is not about a complex operation or a failure in technological equipment. Pat Sheridan happened to be the victim of misdiagnosis due to confusion in the pathology report. As a result, the man found out about the presence of cancer when it was already too late, and he had only a couple of weeks to live (TMIT [TMIT1], 2012). What amazes me most in these cases is that all these medical errors could have been prevented with a higher level of organization. The risks associated with medical care are always present, and of course, given the human nature of doctors and nurses, it is impossible to eradicate any errors. However, I believe that the cases mentioned above can and should be avoided through the implementation of standards and regulations. The cases described in the video invoke my feelings of bewilderment and some degree of anger. After all, the patient should not be afraid to come to the hospital, realizing that he may accidentally be injected with a lethal dose of a substance or confuse his clinical report with some other.
A crucial factor determining the outcome of a medical error is the recognition of this error and the courage to report it. Of course, with this, the medical staff runs the risk of facing court, which is why many cases can end fatally. In the article by Sorrell (2017), the author recounts the experiences of his student Sarah. Sarah realized that she was mistaken with the dosage exceeding it by more than two times. Still, she was competent enough to account for the mistake promptly and to facilitate the process of preventing possible disastrous consequences for the elderly patient. I find the article illustrative in terms of depicting a nurse’s correct response to a mistake.
In addition, the author further presents preventive measures that can effectively avoid similar situations in professional experience. There are thus several ethical considerations that have to be addressed. First, the concept of autonomy and self-determination are claimed to grant patients the right to be informed of their treatment plan, drug dosage, and any accidental or deliberate deviation from this plan (Sorrell, 2017). This principle guided Sarah in the previous example, and it seems to me that it would be possible to reduce human error significantly at this stage.
Further, physicians should be guided by the principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence. Thus, all treatment decisions must be made to maximize the benefit to the patient. Sometimes such considerations may include a risk assessment. Nonetheless, at the slightest threat to health, the medical staff must report potential problems (Sorrell, 2017). For example, Sarah might consider the health risk of an elderly patient due to her dosing error to be negligible and not advise staff to take action. It is scary to imagine how many nurses do this for fear of being called to account and hoping for the best.
Finally, the principle of veracity should serve as a communication facilitator between a patient and a medical staff member. Health care personnel should explain the steps of treatment in a way that is open and accessible to the patient. Indeed, we can often face a situation when a doctor, speaking in medical terminology, neglects this principle. As a result, the patient loses control over the situation and cannot track his treatment, being forced to trust the staff blindly. In Sarah’s example, the nurse was able to build a trusting relationship with the injured old lady, despite her potentially fatal mistake (Sorrell, 2017). I am confident that, guided by these ethical principles of transparency, accountability, and accessibility of care, doctors and nurses can significantly improve the efficiency of hospital processes and avoid many medical errors.
In conclusion, I want to note that the examples of medical errors described in the two suggested videos made a deep impression on me. It is a pity that there are such accidents in the health care system in the modern world that lead to fatal consequences on such a scale. The case I took from Sorrell’s article demonstrates an example of a successful solution to a medical error and can definitely serve as a lesson for future and currently practicing nurses.
Sorrell, J. (2017). Ethics: Ethical issues with medical errors: Shaping a culture of safety in healthcare. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 22(2). Web.
Penn, S. (2010). A closer look at a medication error [Video]. Web.
TMIT [TMIT1]. (2012). Chasing zero: Winning the war on healthcare harm [Video]. YouTube. Web.