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Tips to prevent common medical mistakes

Doctors and nurses are highly trained medical professionals who have patients' best interest in mind. Even doctors and nurses with years of experience, however, can make mistakes. In fact, an estimated 250,000 Americans die each year as a result of a medical error. Likely millions of additional patients suffer injuries or infections as a result of medical errors that go unreported.

Due to the prevalence of medical errors and the resulting complications that can arise, it's important for all patients to be active and informed about their health condition and treatment options. While it can be uncomfortable, it's also wise for patients to advocate for themselves by asking questions of health care providers and even arguing if necessary.

The following are some of the most common, and completely avoidable medical errors, why they occur and steps health care providers and patients can take to prevent them from happening.

• Surgical equipment left inside patient's body – Surgical tools left inside a patient's body can cause complications and massive infections to occur. Surgeons and nurses can easily prevent this medical mistake through the use of checklists prior to and after surgical procedures.

• Doctor operates on wrong body part – This seemingly inexcusable medical error occurs as a result of inaccuracies in a patient's medical chart or a surgeon's misreading of the chart's information. To prevent this medical mistake, patients would be wise to double-check with their surgeons prior to the start of a procedure to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding which body part is to be operated upon.

• Hospital-born Infections – Patients who are hospitalized often have weakened immune systems making them especially susceptible to infections. Germs and bacteria are often spread in a hospital setting when doctors and nurses fail to sufficiently wash their hands. It's wise, therefore, for patients to request everyone who enters their room wash hands.

Source: CNN, "10 shocking medical mistakes," John Bonifield, Nov. 5, 2012

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