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Medical errors are mistakes in health care that could have been prevented. They can occur in hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, doctors' offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and your home. Errors can involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, home treatment, equipment, or lab reports. They are often caused by a lack of good communication. Medical errors may result in injury or death.
Some examples of medical errors are:
The best thing you can do to prevent medical errors is to be involved in your health care. Learn and know about your health problem, medicine, and treatment as best you can and take part in making all decisions about your care. Talk to everyone who is involved in your health care. This includes your doctors, other health professionals, family, and friends.
Before you agree to a medicine, treatment plan, surgery, or lifestyle change, such as changing what you eat, be sure you understand it. Always ask if you are not clear on what, how, or why.
The following steps can help you prevent medical errors:
There are places you can check to see how your health care is rated. Here are a few of them:
How to use medicines can be confusing, especially if you are using a lot of medicines. You need to keep track of when and how to take them, and prescriptions and labels are not always easy to understand. So it's easy for an error with medicine to happen.
For more information, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Many medical errors happen in the hospital. For example, you may receive the wrong meal or medicine. Here are some things you can ask to avoid errors:
Before going to a hospital for a surgery or procedure, ask how often the procedure is done. Research shows that you likely will have better results when you go to a hospital that has a lot of experience with a health problem or surgery.1
Before you have surgery, be sure that you and all your doctors know what is going to happen. Ask about:
Be sure to tell your doctors:
|Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality|
|540 Gaither Road|
|Rockville, MD 20850|
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is one agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AHRQ supports research initiatives that seek to improve the quality of health care in America. AHRQ's mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of health care for all Americans. The website provides evidence-based information to help people make decisions about health care services.
This U.S. Health and Human Services website has information and tools about health insurance and the health care system. For example, you can find quality of care ratings for hospitals and other medical centers. You can learn about health care reform in America and health insurance options. You'll also find tips and tools for staying healthy.
|Medically Induced Trauma Support Services|
|830 Boylston Street|
|Chestnut Hill, MA 02467|
Medically Induced Trauma Support Services (MITSS) is a nonprofit organization that supports, educates, trains and offers assistance to individuals affected by an adverse medical event.
|National Patient Safety Foundation|
|268 Summer Street, 6th Floor|
|Boston, MA 02210|
The National Patient Safety Foundation is an organization dedicated to improving the safety of patients. The foundation works to raise public awareness about patient safety and is a resource for people and organizations who are concerned about the safety of patients.
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2011). 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors. Patient Fact Sheet (AHRQ Publication No. 11-0089). Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Also available online:
Other Works Consulted
- Desai SP, Kachalia A (2012). Quality of care: Performance measurement and quality improvement in clinical practice. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 1, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- HealthGrades (2012). The Ninth Annual HealthGrades Patient Safety and Satisfaction Report. Denver: HealthGrades. Available online:
- Sachdeva RC (2011). Quality and safety in health care for children. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., online chap. 2. Philadelphia: Saunders. Available online:
- Steinman MA, Hanlon JT (2010). Managing medications in clinically complex elders: "There's got to be a happy medium." JAMA, 304(14): 1592–1601.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Revised||December 18, 2012|
Last Revised: December 18, 2012
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