When Medicine Harms: Preventable Errors in Canadian Hospitals

by Kris Bonn

In Canada, we’re blessed with a universal health care system led by extremely well educated, qualified and caring doctors, nurses and other professionals. We trust these professionals with our lives, and in most cases, we’re treated well and we recover.

Unfortunately, preventable errors happen.

On October 26, 2016, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) released a joint report, Measuring Patient Harm in Canadian Hospitals, which reveals that in 2014-2015 preventable harm was experienced in 1 of every 18 hospital stays, or 138,000 hospitalizations. Of those, 30,000 (or 1 in 5) involved more than 1 form of preventable harm. You can review the report by clicking here.

The report included harm from the following areas:

  1. Health care/medication associated conditions. Examples: Anemia, birth trauma, pressure ulcer and medication incidents.
  2. Health care associated infections. Examples: Urinary tract infections, post-procedural infections, sepsis, pneumonia and gastroenteritis.
  3. Patient accidents. Examples: Physical injuries due to a mishap in hospital, not directly related to medical or surgical procedures.
  4. Procedure associated conditions. Examples: Abnormal reactions or complications of surgical or medical procedures, mishaps associated with medical devices used for diagnosis and treatment.

To reduce the risk of potential medical malpractice or harm when receiving medical treatment, as a patient or if you are advocating for a patient, you should always ask why. Communicate with the treating medical professionals and hospital administrators about the care you are receiving. If you have a problem or believe that something doesn’t feel right, speak up right away.

Early intervention can prevent more serious outcomes.

If you believe you or someone you care for has suffered harm from a medical error or medical negligence, you should speak to the hospital or doctor. There may be a remedy that can be easily administered that could relieve your symptoms or solve the problem.

If the harm is more serious and/or the response from the health care professional is not helpful, you should seek the advice of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. Medical malpractice is a very specific and specialized area of law. The lawyer must not only master the rules of law, but she or he must also have knowledge of medicine to understand the cases.

Pursuing a medical malpractice case is expensive and can be risky. But patients and lawyers should not be deterred from pursuing these cases. The more these cases are pursued and the more that are successful, the number of preventable medical errors will decrease and everyone will be safer.