The Dangers of Medical Record Errors & Uncoordinated Care

photo female doctor speaks with patient - medical record errorsSeptember 17, 2020 is World Patient Safety Day – the perfect time to learn how you can reduce your risk of harm from medical errors. What can you do? Be involved in your care – at every step. Engaged patients can reduce their risk of medical errors and other safety hazards while giving themselves the best chance of top-notch health care and positive outcomes. Of course, being an empowered, engaged patient doesn’t guarantee you’ll be free from harm or enjoy a full recovery. However, it will help you communicate with your doctors, understand medical information, coordinate your care among multiple providers, follow complicated medication and treatment regimens, and more. But, what if despite doing everything right, your medical providers won’t take your symptoms seriously? Or your providers fail to coordinate your care? And what if medical record errors lead to a misdiagnosis or other medical errors?

Pat Denton faced all of these issues (and more) as she struggled to recover from heart surgery. As you’ll see in the video of her story below, a series of medical errors and missteps led to her untimely death.

Patient Safety Movement is dedicated to eliminating harm.

safety first sign - medical record errorsMedical errors are common and dangerous. Every year, at least 200,000 people needlessly die in US hospitals due to medical errors – now the 3rd leading cause of death. And the dangers are widespread. Worldwide, more than 4.8 million people die from preventable deaths in hospitals. Countless others suffer harm.

Fortunately for patients everywhere, Patient Safety Movement, a non-profit organization, works tirelessly to eliminate preventable harm and death in healthcare worldwide. They believe zero preventable deaths in hospitals is an attainable goal with the help of the right people, ideas, and technology.

As part of their work to inform and influence change, they share stories of patients harmed or killed by medical errors and other patient safety hazards. One such case, the journey of Pat Denton, underscores the dangers of medical record errors and the importance of coordinated care and patient engagement.

Pat’s story.

Tragically, Pat Denton’s death was caused by uncoordinated care and incomplete medical records. Pat’s heart problems led her doctor to surgically implant a medical device. Although her surgery went well, her recovery did not. Her persistent, sometimes severe, pain would not go away. Her medical providers repeatedly told her the pain was a normal part of the healing process. Finally, 4 months after the surgery, she went to the ER. Oddly, due to medical record errors, the ER nurse couldn’t find anything in her records about the surgery, even though it was the same hospital. They sent her home only to have her return in even more pain days later. Sadly, it was too late.

In this Patient Safety Movement video, Pat’s family shares her story, in hopes it will make her death mean something.

What went wrong?

A range of things went wrong in the course of Pat’s post-surgical journey. For instance, her providers didn’t take her pain seriously, allowing the sepsis infection to reach dangerous levels. Additionally, the electronic health record systems within the same hospital lacked interoperability – they could not communicate and share data – leading to medical record errors. Additionally, the ER nurse didn’t believe her when she said she had a cardiac implant 4 months prior. (By the way – who would make something like that up?) Next, the specialists treating her while she was in the ICU did not coordinate her care. Furthermore, after she died, an evaluation showed that her medical records were missing important information. There were so many missed opportunities to provide better care and prevent Pat’s death.

What can we learn from Pat’s tragic story?

Pat’s story demonstrates the critical need to be engaged in your health care at every step in the process.

photo doctor talking to elderly couple - medical record errorsWhat can you do to reduce your risk of harm?

  • Speak up when something doesn’t seem right. Trust your instincts. Importantly, don’t let doctors intimidate you into submission. But, always be polite!
  • Ask as many questions as you need. Make sure you understand the answers.
  • Don’t bury your head in the sand. As hard as it can be to discuss serious medical conditions, treatments, and likely outcomes, it’s certainly in your best interest to do so.
  • Make sure you understand the diagnosis and the pros and cons of treatment options. Learn about possible disease symptoms and treatment side effects. And, ask about worst-case scenario outcomes. Also, find out what to do if a problem develops or symptoms worsen.
  • When receiving a new medication, ask your doctor about how and when to take it. For more information, read Reduce Your Risk of Medication Errors.
  • Persist in your efforts to receive proper health care for yourself or a loved one. Don’t give up if you feel your concerns are being ignored.
  • For hospitalized patients, the patient or a family member should participate in rounds whenever possible. Research shows many benefits, including a reduction in medical errors. For more information, read The Benefits of Participating in Hospital Rounds.
  • Get a second, or even third, opinion. If you need to, get more! Years ago, I had to see 12 doctors before I found one who could help me for an unusual condition. For more information, read Why are Second Opinions Important?
  • To avoid medical record errors, regularly check your records for errors, which you can often do through your doctor’s portal. Additionally, at the end of every appointment, ask your doctors to print the visit notes. If you catch an error, tell your doctor as soon as possible. To learn more, read Are Your Medical Records Accurate?

Knowledge is power. Learn more.

Certainly, there are no guarantees in medicine. But educating yourself on how to avoid risks and get the better care is worth your time. Read these posts to learn more:

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