What Qualifies as a Medical Error?

Personal Injury Attorneys Blog

If you are sick or hurt, you go to the doctor for treatment, and you trust your doctors and nurses will provide the highest level of care. You don’t expect them to make matters worse through medical errors. If you suffered further harm from your healthcare providers in Virginia because of a medical error, you likely have options for obtaining compensation.

You need a medical malpractice lawyer who understands what qualifies as a medical error and how you can get the compensation you need.

Reach out to an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Virginia who can explain your rights and options and help you get the money you deserve.

What Is a Medical Error?

What Qualifies as a Medical ErrorA medical error is any preventable adverse effect on a patient that a healthcare provider causes through their negligence or wrongdoing. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 250,000 people die each year because of medical errors, making it one of the leading causes of death in the country.

Medical errors can arise from any number of scenarios, but some are more common than others.

The most common medical errors that injure and kill so many people each year include:

  • Diagnosis errors
  • Medication errors
  • Surgical errors
  • Infections
  • Falls

Other medical errors include discharging a patient too soon or not providing them with proper self-care instructions to follow at home. Many patients go home to recover only to have to return to the hospital because of complications or because they did not follow the correct self-care procedures and suffered a relapse or further injury.

Pressure sores and ulcers can develop in patients that lie in bed too long without moving. These sores are painful and can become infected. Nurses and staff must ensure they turn bed-ridden patients regularly to prevent pressure sores and ulcers, and if they don’t and leave you or a loved one lying in one place too long, that can constitute neglect.

Other causes of medical errors include defective or harmful medical devices. Items like mesh implants, pacemakers, and artificial joints injure or kill thousands of patients every year, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issues many medical device recalls. Also, many lawsuits have arisen over defective medical devices, so you should consult an attorney if you were hurt because of a defective medical device.

Diagnostic Errors

Diagnostic errors refer to the failure of a healthcare provider to establish an accurate and timely explanation of a patient’s medical condition or health problems.

Errors can result from a physician not asking the right questions during a medical examination or not thoroughly considering all of a patient’s symptoms. Diagnosis errors can also happen if a doctor does not order the proper tests and diagnostic procedures or reads the results incorrectly.

Some common diagnosis errors include:

Although diagnostic errors can happen in any clinical setting, they are most prevalent in emergency rooms, operating rooms, and intensive care units. These are usually high-stress environments where a patient may not be able to convey their symptoms, and doctors may miss vital information regarding a patient’s condition.

Diagnostic errors can also happen if a physician does not fully review a patient’s medical chart and history. Errors also result because a doctor simply made a mistake due to stress or fatigue.

Additionally, a doctor may make an accurate diagnosis but may do so after it is too late to treat the condition. For instance, many cancer diagnoses fall into the delayed diagnosis category, with colon, lung, and breast cancer being among the top conditions that doctors fail to diagnose properly or early. Other common conditions that received delayed or incorrect diagnoses are heart attacks, strokes, embolisms, brain hemorrhages, and sepsis.

Medication Errors and Adverse Drug Effects

Patients can suffer harm from receiving the wrong medication or from adverse drug interactions between different medications. All parties involved in prescribing, administering, and dispensing medication can make medication errors, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.

Some common medication errors include:

  • Prescribing the wrong medication
  • Not prescribing the correct medication
  • Prescribing the wrong dosage
  • Not considering adverse drug interactions or allergies
  • Not considering the potential negative effects on a patient’s medical condition
  • Administering or dispensing the wrong medication
  • Not following proper medication prescribing and dispensing protocols
  • Giving a patient medication too often, too late, or too early

Each year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives over 100,000 reports of medication errors throughout the country from healthcare providers, drug manufacturers, and consumers. The FDA also initiates drug recalls regarding unsafe medication, and medication errors have led to many lawsuits over the years.

Surgical errors

Surgical errors can arise from a surgeon operating on the wrong body part or performing the wrong operation. For instance, you could need an operation on your right shoulder, but the surgeon operates on your left should instead. Surgical errors also result from surgeons getting patients mixed up, such as if they mistakenly remove a patient’s gall bladder who came in for an appendectomy.

Another surgical error is when a surgeon damages a healthy organ while operating on an adjacent organ. Surgeons or their staff members may also leave objects inside you during an operation, such as gauze, sponges, or other medical equipment.


Surgical patients in particular are at high risk for infections, but infections can affect almost any patient. If an infection sets in, it can be difficult to treat and cause serious and even life-threatening conditions.

Hospitals must keep their environment clean, and surgeons and doctors must sanitize the instruments they use during surgeries or medical procedures. Failure to do so can cause serious infections in patients, and nurses and staff must constantly monitor a patient for any signs of infection.


Millions of patients suffer injury from falls each year, and around a third are entirely preventable. Patients may fall for any number of reasons, and doctors, nurses, and all medical staff should be aware of a patient’s risk of falling and take precautions. Medical staff should develop a safety plan for dealing with the patient and monitor the patient closely to ensure they do not fall when trying to get out of bed, for instance.

If you or a loved one fell and suffered an injury at a hospital, you should consult an attorney for help understanding how you can hold the hospital responsible and obtain compensation.

Medical Professionals Can Prevent Most Medical Errors

In many cases, medical errors would not have happened were it not for the negligence or wrongdoing of a healthcare provider. All healthcare providers have a duty to provide an acceptable standard of care to their patients, and if they fall short due to negligence or carelessness, you may have a claim against them.

You should speak with an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney right away to understand your options for obtaining compensation. However, you must act quickly since you only have two years from your injury to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Virginia. Also, the statute of limitations has different requirements for children, so consult an attorney immediately if your child suffered harm due to a medical error.