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Medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in Canada

Personal injury lawyer Catherine Shearer is concerned our overburdened healthcare system is going to lead to more errors

The statistics are alarming.

Every year, about 28,000 Canadians die due to medical mistakes. Those fatality numbers, believed to be conservative, rank just behind heart disease and cancer. Medical errors also injure tens of thousands more.

Most people probably don’t give much thought to medical errors, but Catherine Shearer, a personal injury lawyer at McKenzie Lake Lawyers in Guelph said, “In our current overworked, understaffed, pandemic-strained healthcare system more mistakes are bound to happen.”

Most common medical mistakes

Some of the more common medical mistakes include:

  • surgical and anesthesia errors,
  • inadequate monitoring after a procedure,
  • and birth injuries or trauma.

Delayed diagnosis and treatment

Misdiagnosis, late diagnosis, and failure to diagnose are also some of the most serious types of medical errors. Shearer said, “If the ER is busy and you have common symptoms, maybe something gets missed that contributes to a serious injury or fatality.”

Catherine Shearer is a strong advocate for patients.

Recently she was there to advocate for a woman who attended the emergency room after suffering a heart attack.

The patient waited 12 hours to see a doctor. She was eventually admitted and moved to an area with no proper medical equipment by her side, even though she was at high risk of having another heart attack. She remained in hospital for a week without having a proper hospital room.

Standard of care is critically important

In this case, the woman's family was told an angiogram should be done within a week. But the doctor mistakenly believed that the patient had additional days to wait.

Shearer said, “If the procedure was not done within a week and the patient died or suffered serious injury, that would be a cause of action. If the care falls below the standard of care, the medical personnel have acted with negligence and are opening themselves up to a lawsuit.”

Negligence is a mistake without intent

The angiogram was urgently booked the next day, and even though an echocardiogram was urgently requested, the hospital forgot about it, and 6 weeks later the patient was still waiting.

After the procedure was done, the patient couldn’t get an appointment with a cardiologist until mid-December. To see a specialist sooner, the patient had to ask a friend for a favour. Shearer said, “That cardiologist discovered that the patient was not on the proper medications to prevent a further heart attack or heart damage.”

Medication errors 

Medication errors are another mistake seen resulting in serious consequences.

Medication mistakes could involve a prescribing doctor or a pharmacist. What can add to this is lack of consistent care or communication. If there’s no continuity of care and one doctor prescribes one drug, and another doctor prescribes another drug, the patient could end up taking medications that could seriously harm them.

Be your own advocate

People want to trust their doctors, but Catherine Shearer stressed that where you can, you should do your own research beforehand. Ask questions, encourage family members to ask questions, and get informed answers.

For example, there have been cases where obstetricians have performed medical procedures without consent that have resulted in negative consequences. Women should insist on informed consent.

Shearer added, “The best way to protect yourself is to be your own advocate, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Sometimes you have to trust the system and hope it doesn’t fail you.”

What if you or a loved one has suffered a medical mistake?

The most important thing is to get treatment for injuries caused by medical error. If you believe a medical mistake has occurred, you can file a complaint with the hospital’s Patient Relations department, where it will be investigated.

Furthermore, in Ontario all health care professions are regulated. Doctors are regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, while nurses are regulated by the College of Nurses of Ontario. If you file complaints with these regulatory bodies, investigations will be done.

How do you know if you have a legal case?

It can be difficult to determine if you’ve been a victim of a medical error. Some Doctors may not admit to a mistake, especially if they’re worried about a lawsuit.

It doesn’t hurt to get a legal opinion if the patient’s quality of life is impacted, or there is an obvious injury. Call a lawyer to ensure you have all the bases covered.

Catherine Shearer said, “In most situations, your case will need to be reviewed by a lawyer and a medical expert to make the determination as to whether the standard of care was breached.”

Can you be compensated?

If you’ve been a victim of a medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, treatment costs, lost income, and the recovery of losses for family members.

Shearer said, “If you would like to investigate a potential medical error or medical negligence case involving you or a loved one, I would be happy to assist by providing a free, no obligation consultation.”

Contact Catherine Shearer at (226) 203-1243 or Email: [email protected]