A study released earlier this year found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer. What can patients do to reduce the chances that they become victims of serious or even fatal medical mistakes made by healthcare providers?
There are several categories of medical errors, including:
- Medication errors
- Surgical mistakes
According to leading health and patient safety organizations – such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, and the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine – patients can take measures to help protect themselves from these types of potentially deadly medical mistakes.
What can Patients Do to Avoid Drug Errors?
Many preventable medical errors stem from a lack of physician communication, either between doctor and patient or doctor and other care givers. Patients, then, should provide complete information and ask questions when they’re prescribed medications.
Be sure to let your doctor know all the medicines that you’re currently taking. This applies to prescribed drugs as well as over-the-counter. If a doctor or nurse doesn’t ask, patients should volunteer any medication allegories they’re aware of.
If you’re uncertain about what a prescribed drug is for, how long to take it, in what dosage, or potential side-effects, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking it. If you are experiencing unexplained side-effects, contact your physician.
Wrong Site and Other Surgical Mistakes
Good communication is also one key to avoiding dangerous errors made during surgery. Wrong-site surgery, in which the surgeon operates on the wrong part of the patient’s body, is a surgical error that should never happen. Surgeons have even operated on the wrong patient or done the wrong procedure on the correct patient.
Surgical patients should have an advocate, either a family member or trusted friend. If patients can’t or forget to confirm with their doctors as to what procedure is being done or on what part of the body, their advocates can step in to communicate clearly with all involved caregivers.
How Often Does Misdiagnosis Occur?
There are estimates that one out of every 10 patient diagnoses are wrong and are responsible for tens of thousands of avoidable deaths each year. This includes when a doctor fails to diagnosis a serious condition, provides the wrong diagnosis, or fails to offer the correct diagnosis in a timely manner, also known as a delayed diagnosis.
While trusting their physician, patients should take care to note all their symptoms before and after treatment. This information includes what parts of the body are affected and how, as well as any conditions as to when they occur, such as time of day or activity.
Patients and their families should retain copies of all medical records. And always ask questions about any given diagnosis or any other possible diagnoses given your symptoms.
While patients can take steps to protect themselves, it’s the responsibility of healthcare professionals to provide a reasonable standard of care. When they don’t, and serious mistakes are made, they should be held accountable.
If you were severely harmed or lost a loved one due to a suspected mistake in care, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help identify who is responsible.
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.