By Michael J Hanby II, Pedersen, Whitehead & Hanby
n 2016, BMJ published a shocking study that revealed medical errors are the third most prevalent cause of death in the United States. According to the study, more than a quarter million Americans are killed yearly due to medical blunders. For context, in 2016, an estimated 34,439 people died in automobile collisions. Approximately 33,000 people die in firearm-related incidents each year.
There are many ways that medical errors harm patients. Botched surgical procedures, giving the patient the wrong medication and misdiagnosing disease are common medical errors made every day in America’s healthcare system.
Many factors go into creating needless medical errors. Unfortunately, many of these factors are out of the patient’s control. Still, there are some practical ways for patients to reduce their risk of being victims of dangerous medical errors.
Get the information.
Arming yourself with as much credible information as possible provides the best chance of avoiding or detecting potential medical errors. It is essential to learn as much about your condition, physician and medications as possible. Be careful and ensure you get your information from trustworthy sources.
Ask a friend or family member to attend your appointment.
Having someone you trust to advocate for you is always a good idea. Doctors bombard their patients with information. Having a second set of ears helps ensure you capture all the valuable information the doctor is passing along.
Even with the help of a friend, it’s easy to miss information. Bring a small notebook to your appointment to jot down important details and information so you will remember them. You can also ask the doctor if you can record the conversation. A recording is extremely useful if you are hard of hearing. You can play the recording back later at a higher volume to ensure you understand the information the doctor shares.
Bring a list of your medications to your appointment.
It is never a good idea to rely solely on your memory for important information. To guarantee that your healthcare provider has all the pertinent information, bring a list of all the medications you currently take. Remember to include all supplements, herbs and vitamins to help your provider spot potential interactions.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your medical history, allergies and any symptoms you may be experiencing. Tell your provider if you believe they may have made a mistake or misunderstood you. You have the right to be heard and understood.
Learn as much from the doctor as you can about your condition or procedure. Prepare a list of questions or concerns before the appointment so you can remember them. Inquire about risks, alternatives and options. Never feel embarrassed to ask for clarity.
Know when to get to a specialist.
Often there are diseases or conditions not commonly treated by your local facility. To get the best results possible, find hospitals and doctors with a lot of experience with your ailment.
Verify test results.
It is unwise to live by the adage that “no news is good news. ”Check-in if your doctor ran tests and you are unsure of the results. Some test results are reported to an online portal, while healthcare providers deliver others over the phone. If you have questions regarding your results, request to speak to someone who can answer those questions for you.
Read any written materials.
Discharge instructions contain important information regarding your condition and follow-up procedures. You and your provider need to be on the same page regarding these. Similarly, prescription inserts provide information on dosage, potential interactions and side effects. If you have questions or do not understand, follow up with your doctor or pharmacist.
Practice preventative medicine.
While it is easy to blow off preventative exams, the truth is that such screenings can detect disease early, decrease medical costs and result in fewer serious medical errors