Preventable medical errors are a serious problem in Canada’s healthcare system – but it’s difficult to say exactly how serious. A landmark 2004 study estimated that 70,000 preventable adverse events occurred each year, leading to roughly 24,000 deaths. Subsequent reports have failed to offer a more precise number, as medical malpractice lawyers know.

The picture is no clearer in the United States. A 2000 report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, estimated that medical errors caused 98,000 deaths per year in the country; a 2016 study from John’s Hopkins found that medical errors were the nation’s third-leading cause of death. Other estimates vary widely.

The lack of accurate data around fatal medical errors is frustrating to healthcare advocates and medical malpractice lawyers; it is difficult to inspire change without being able to precisely describe the scope of a problem. The reverse is also true: in a new whitepaper, the Foundation for the Innovation and Development of Health Safety (FIDHS) notes that the 2000 report and the 2016 John’s Hopkins study “sparked hospital initiatives to improve quality of care in the US.” It stands to reason that updated data could spark a new wave of healthcare improvements, both in the United States and Canada.

Perhaps with that in mind, the FIDHS whitepaper goes on to provide eye-opening information on the three most common causes of medical error: medication events; surgical and perioperative errors; and misdiagnoses and incorrect treatment.

Medication errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in Canada, the United States, and globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) blames a variety of factors including weak healthcare infrastructure, human errors, staff shortages, and environmental conditions. Canadians are not immune: last year, we wrote about a Manitoba lawsuit involving a dangerous and ultimately fatal dose of the painkiller Toradol.

Surgical errors are also quite common in Canada. We wrote recently about surgical malpractice in general and more specifically about the high number of surgical devices being left inside patients. Other forms of surgical error cited in the FIDHS whitepaper include anesthesia mistakes, nerve damage, and wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-patient surgeries.

Finally, misdiagnoses are perhaps the most common source of medical malpractice lawsuits in Canada; the FIDHS whitepaper suggests they account for 10-20 per cent of all adverse events. This is another subject we discussed recently in the blog and will continue to cover in the future.

If you or a member of your family have been injured in a medical setting, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers has represented seriously injured Ontarians in numerous complex malpractice cases. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.


Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks

Greg Neinstein