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Avoiding Medical Errors

Submitted by on July 15, 2012 – 1:32 AM One Comment

Medical errors occur at disturbingly high rates that have contributed in failing the standard of care of the health care system. Although the frequency of such errors is divisive, it is well known that errors originating in health care facilities are a significant source of needless morbidity and death. Most common medical errors include:  surgical errors, pharmacy errors, birth injuries, errors in follow-up care, medication errors, patient-doctor communication errors, laboratory errors and treatment errors.

Medical decisions are usually based on laboratory diagnosis and are found erroneous because laboratory information was misleading. Most of the times, the errors are blamed on the analytical technique but majority of laboratory errors occur even before testing begins. Such pre-analytical errors can cause fatal hazards in laboratory diagnosis. There are many grave pre-analytical errors, mainly categorized as patient variables (diet, age, body mass, gender, smoking, exercise, etc.) and specimen variables (collection, handling, processing, transport and storage).


If I have to single out one such error, I’ll pick “Labeling” of a sample that is processed in a diagnostic laboratory for analysis. Since there are still a large percentage of laboratories that handwrite, such labels are difficult to read and are unreliable. An incorrect labeling may lead to incorrect diagnosis, an incorrect treatment and at times, ends up in serious condition or death. Labeling is a key step in pre-analytical area which is crucial for correct analytical and post-analytical processes. The information can be easily misread—leading to repetitive errors as mislabeled sample can give you incorrect patient information, identification errors and mix-ups with another patient’s samples. Correct first step will direct an analysis in correct pathway but an incorrect initial step will surely escort the analysis in a wrong direction. It’s better to prevent errors beforehand.


Of what I’ve known and observed, usually these errors are caused by lack of attentiveness at work, but more importantly, it is the so called “avoidable human error” that resulted from may be stress at work or just personal negligence.


We should be doing our best in preventing medical mistakes as patient samples are precious and valuable diagnostic tools. It is useful to allot them a unique identifier firmly affixed to the container or number or bar code. In the eve of an error happening, we should try learning from them irrespective of their intensity in a transparent manner, to minimize the chance of repeating them. As it is, it is a patient’s life that one is dealing with and responsible for and there can just be no compromise here.


About the author:

Anum Siddique is a recent graduate of B.S Medical Technology (Clinical Laboratory Science) from the Dow University of Health and Science. She is currently doing internship in Molecular Pathology. The author can be reached at: [email protected]

About this article: This article is competing for the JPMS International Medical Writing Contest 2012 for the theme: Learning from Medical Errors.


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  • Monibjee2010

    nice budy