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How medical errors affect North Carolina patients

In a recent highly publicized example of medical error, a Dallas hospital sent home a seriously ill patient who had a travel history to areas of West Africa where the Ebola outbreak has taken thousands of lives. This serious medical error may have been caused by a flaw in the hospital's software system that did not relay the travel history to all medical personnel. These kinds of medical errors can also happen in North Carolina.

As a result of a software mistake, the patient experienced worsened conditions after returning home and exposing others to the Ebola virus. The patient returned two days later, was admitted and subsequently died of his infection. Failure to diagnose the patient's infection during the first visit to the emergency room may have a long-term impact on the entire community as others were exposed to the disease.

A recent study of hospital practices suggests that between 210,000 and 400,000 patients die each year as a result of hospital error and medical malpractice. In addition to those who die as a result of hospital mistakes and doctor error, there are even more patients who experience a permanent disability. In the Dallas case, reliance upon electronic health records may have interfered with the ability of doctors to make an accurate diagnosis of the patient's infection.

Doctor and hospital errors have serious consequences for all patients. From medical expenses to the risk of long-term disability, these sorts of mistakes can have life-long effects. A thorough investigation of a patient's medical records can help to determine whether proper procedures and standards of care were followed. If the established medical guidelines were not followed, patients may consider following a lawsuit for damages or seek a settlement to help pay for medical expenses.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Scarier Than Ebola: Human Error", John Tozzi, October 03, 2014

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