Medical errors are mistakes in health care that could have been prevented. They can occur in hospitals, clinics, surgery centres, doctors' offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and your home. Errors can involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, home treatment, equipment, or lab reports. They are often caused by a lack of good communication. Medical errors may result in injury or death.
Some examples of medical errors are:
The best thing you can do to prevent medical errors is to be involved in your health care. Learn and know about your health problem, medicine, and treatment as best you can and take part in making all decisions about your care. Talk to everyone who is involved in your health care. This includes your doctors, other health professionals, family, and friends.
Before you agree to a medicine, treatment plan, surgery, or lifestyle change, such as changing what you eat, be sure you understand it. Always ask if you are not clear on what, how, or why.
The following steps can help you prevent medical errors:
How to use medicines can be confusing, especially if you are using a lot of medicines. You need to keep track of when and how to take them, and prescriptions and labels are not always easy to understand. So it's easy for an error with medicine to happen.
For more information, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Many medical errors happen in the hospital. For example, you may receive the wrong meal or medicine. Here are some things you can ask to avoid errors:
Before going to a hospital for a surgery or procedure, ask how often the procedure is done. Research shows that you likely will have better results when you go to a hospital that has a lot of experience with a health problem or surgery.1
Before you have surgery, be sure that you and all your doctors know what is going to happen. Ask about:
Be sure to tell your doctors:
|Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society (CAS)|
|1 Eglinton Avenue East|
|Toronto, ON M4P 3A1|
The Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society (CAS) is an organization for medical professionals. The CAS website also provides basic information about anesthesia for the general public.
|Canadian Medical Association|
|1867 Alta Vista Drive|
|Ottawa, ON K1G 5W8|
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), a leadership organization for physicians, works to promote high health care standards for Canadians. The CMA provides information for patients, health professionals, and medical students on a wide range of health topics.
|Address Locator 0900C2|
|Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9|
|Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)|
|130 Colonnade Road|
|Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9|
|Phone:||Telephone numbers for PHAC vary by region. For your regional number, go to the listing on the PHAC website at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/contac-eng.php.|
The Public Health Agency of Canada (formerly the Population and Public Health Branch of Health Canada) is primarily responsible for policies, programs, and systems relating to disease prevention, health promotion, disease surveillance, community action, and disease control.
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2011). 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors. Patient Fact Sheet (AHRQ Publication No. 11-0089). Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Also available online:
Other Works Consulted
- Desai SP, Kachalia A (2012). Quality of care: Performance measurement and quality improvement in clinical practice. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 1, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- HealthGrades (2012). The Ninth Annual HealthGrades Patient Safety and Satisfaction Report. Denver: HealthGrades. Available online:
- Sachdeva RC (2011). Quality and safety in health care for children. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., online chap. 2. Philadelphia: Saunders. Available online:
- Steinman MA, Hanlon JT (2010). Managing medications in clinically complex elders: "There's got to be a happy medium." JAMA, 304(14): 1592–1601.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Revised||February 20, 2013|
Last Revised: February 20, 2013
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