Medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the United States,
according to a recent study by a patient safety team at Johns Hopkins.
A significant number of these deaths result from the failure to monitor
patients’ health, the failure to correctly interpret monitoring
data, or the failure to act on a problem promptly.

Johns Hopkins study examined four large-scale studies that tracked medical death rates from
2000 to 2008. Using hospital admission rates from 2013, the team extrapolated
that over 251,000 deaths in that year likely resulted from medical error
– making medical error the cause of 9.5 percent of all U.S. deaths
each year.

The researchers noted that most medical errors are the result of “systemic
problems,” like poor coordination of care and the lack of safety
protocols. Mismonitoring problems can easily result from either of these
causes, as well as from other causes, such as malfunctioning equipment
or lack of communication among the patient care team, as well as carelessness
or negligence.

Here are some of the most common mismonitoring errors and their consequences:

  • Anesthesia Monitoring. Misplacement of equipment, lack of communication, or failure to pay proper
    attention when a patient is under anesthesia can all cause serious injury
    or death. Currently, about 1 in 200,000 patients die while under anesthesia.
    Others suffer severe brain injuries and other permanent harm.
  • Fetal Heart Monitoring. Monitoring a baby’s heart rate during labor and delivery is one of
    the simplest ways to determine whether the baby is in distress, so that
    measures can be taken before permanent harm results. Although electronic
    fetal heart monitoring was first developed in the 1960s, delivery teams
    may forget to check it regularly – with serious results.
  • Operating Room Equipment Counts. Leaving a sponge, needle, or surgical instrument inside a patient has been
    the subject of countless sitcom jokes, but the consequences can be serious
    – and the error is more common than most people realize. Shockingly,
    the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that this mistake
    happens in as many as 1 in every 8 surgeries.

Each of these errors can be reduced or avoided with more careful monitoring
and attention – and each can cause serious harm if this care is
not taken.