4 Ways to Prevent Medical Mistakes

CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins The Doctors to weigh in on controversial medical issues in the news.

The Blame Game
Dr. Gupta discusses his new book, Monday Mornings, a fictional account of how doctors respond when medical mistakes are made.

“Typically on Monday mornings, there’s something called [an] M and M conference,” E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork says. “[It’s a] morbidity and mortality conference where we, as physicians, get together [and] talk about things that have gone well, things that have not gone well and mistakes, etc.”

Dr. Gupta explains, “I think [the book] had to be fictional. The books I’ve written in the past have been non-fiction, but in order to feel completely free to really dive into this subject matter, [the book needed to be fiction]. It wasn’t about implicating any particular doctors or any particular hospitals,” Dr. Gupta continues. “I just really wanted to give people something they've never seen before."

Dr. Gupta is currently working with producer David E. Kelly to develop Monday Mornings into a network television program.

Medical Mistakes

The Doctors and Dr. Gupta discuss how, despite all the checks and balances in the United States' healthcare system, medical mistakes inevitably happen. But who or what is to blame, and how can the system be altered to prevent further tragedies?

“Medical mistakes cost nearly 200,000 people their lives this year alone,” Dr. Travis says. “That’s almost double the number from the most recent study.”

“Because we are a more litigious society than ever, doctors order a lot of tests [and] perform a lot of procedures and give a lot of medications that may not be necessary,” Dr. Gupta explains. “I think as a result of those tests and those procedures and those medications, you have more mistakes.”

“I think there are less mistakes happening, but there are so many more checks and balances,” plastic surgeon Dr. Drew Ordon adds.

Painkiller Dangers

Discover the staggering statistics on prescription painkillers, and watch how an accidental overdose led to one mother’s tragic loss.

Deadly Surgical Mistake
An optional surgery for a man suffering from a lung tumor resulted in his death after the surgeon inadvertently operated on the wrong lung. The surgeon never admitted any fault and evidence shows that he may have altered medical records to indicate a life-threatening growth was present in the lung he removed.

It took the medical board eight years to suspend the doctor’s license, but the suspension is only temporary and he will be able to practice again in two years.

"[Cases like this are] why they put those checks and balances in the O.R.," OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. "[They establish] that you have the right patient for the right surgery. The patient even has to answer about what surgery they're having."

Dr. Ordon adds, "I had a breast augmentation patient who wrote notes to me on her chest with lipstick. That's a little extreme, but you can be your best advocate," he says.

Prevention Tips for Medical Mistakes

The Doctors count down the top four prevention tips to avoid a medical mistake happening to you or a loved one.

Tip #4: Plan Surgery
Address any and all medical complications and drug interactions before undergoing surgery.

Tip #3: Call for Lab Results
Follow up with your doctor for image and/or lab results to prevent any mix-ups or failed notifications.

Tip #2: Know Your Medications
Know the names, dosages and side effects of any medications, vitamins and supplements.

Tip #1: Take Charge of Your Check-Up
Arrive at your medical appointments prepared and leave informed. Find out how.

Medical ID

The Doctors explain how medical identification bracelets, necklaces and tattoos can assist doctors in providing expedient and correct care if you’re admitted into a hospital.

Medical Miracle
While 15-year-old Clay Beabout was still in utero, he was diagnosed with a variety of developmental abnormalities. He was born missing five ribs on his right side, which caused spinal scoliosis. In addition, he was born with a malformation of his heart, and without a kidney on his left side.

Known as VATER syndrome (Vertebrae, Anus, Trachea, Esophageal, Renal), a child with one of these birth defects may not necessarily have a deficiency in every area. However, roughly 70 percent of children born with VATER syndrome will have vertebral anomalies, and may undergo as many as 100 surgeries throughout their life.

Since Clay was four months old, he has endured more than 40 surgeries. In what was perhaps the most major surgery of his life, surgeons implemented titanium ribs to correct the curvature of his spine, which stabilized his core and prevented it from collapsing. Without the support of the artificial ribcage, Clay would lose his ability to breathe. The VEPTR procedure (Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib) allows surgeons to expand the rib cage every six months, until the child outgrows the device and a larger one is installed.

To raise awareness and funds, Clay’s mother, Amy, founded the Titanium Rib Foundation, which serves all children coming to the Spinal and Thoracic Treatment and Research Center in San Antonio, Texas for the life-saving surgery. The Titanium Rib Foundation has assisted over 500 families of children who suffer from spinal distortion associated with VATER syndrome.

Watch surgeons remove Clay’s titanium rib prosthesis and straighten his spine.

Clay, Amy and orthopedic spinal surgeon, Dr. James W. Simmons, join The Doctors to discuss Clay's operation and how he is doing now.

Watch a clip from Clay’s festival-winning short film, Deep Blue Breath, co-starring actor Sean Astin.

Sean Astin makes a surprise appearance!

• Learn more about Deep Blue Breath and the mission of the Make a Film Foundation.

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OAD 3/28/12