Medical mistakes occur in hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, nursing homes, surgical centers and pharmacies. Errors occur with medication and prescriptions, with misdiagnosis, faulty equipment and during surgical procedures. According to statistics provided by the Commonwealth Fund (a private foundation aimed at improving the nation's health care system), one in five Americans has been a victim of a medical mistake or has a family member who has experienced a hospital or doctor error.
Most medical errors occur due to a miscommunication - between medical recordkeeping systems, doctors and hospital staff or doctors and patients. The good news in this information is that many medical mistakes can be prevented simply by improving communication.
Taking Control Of Your Health: How You Can Help Stop Medical Errors
As a patient, there are a number of things that you can personally do to take charge of your care and help prevent unnecessary mistakes from being made. Below is a list of tips for patients that may help prevent medical errors from occurring.
Keep your own records. Keep a copy of all of your hospital records. Make sure that a loved one knows where these are and is aware of any major health conditions that you may have.
Carry a list of your medications, including over-the-counter medications, with you. Even if you are not headed to the doctor's office, it is always a good idea to have an updated list of medications that is easily accessible in your purse or on a smartphone in case of emergency. Keep the list up-to-date and include any over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as aspirin, that you regularly take.
Bring medications with you to an appointment. If you're taking several medications, bring them with you. This will start the conversation between you and your doctor about appropriate medications, potential drug interactions and ensure that you are getting the care that you need.
When a doctor prescribes a new medication, make sure you understand what it is for. Know how you are supposed to take it (i.e., how often, with food or water, etc). Know how long you need to take it. Understand possible side effects. Make sure that it is safe to take with your other medications. To help prevent a prescription error, make sure that you talk to the pharmacist when you fill a new prescription and verify that it is the correct medication.
Be prepared. Anytime you go to visit your doctor or see a specialist, write down your questions beforehand. And then ask them. The more informed you are the better care you will receive.
Learn as much as you can about your condition and treatments. Do research beforehand on your concerns and then ask follow up questions. Don't try to self-diagnose, but do be able to talk about your symptoms. Again, ask questions of the doctor and follow up with all advised treatments.
Bring a buddy. When you are going into an important appointment or are going to be hospitalized, bring a friend or family member with you. They can help you make sure you are getting answers to your questions and help clear up possible miscommunication between you and your doctor.
Demand that staff wash their hands. Hospitals and clinics have a lot of germs. While most healthcare professionals are good about washing their hands anytime they are in direct contact with a patient, if you notice that they haven't, don't be afraid to ask them to do so.
Follow up on tests. If you have a test, ask when you can expect the results. If you don't get them in a reasonable amount of time, follow up. And make sure you understand what the results mean.
When in the hospital, make sure anyone administering treatment or medicine double-checks your ID bracelet and chart. To prevent a new doctor or nurse from coming on shift and inadvertently giving you the wrong treatment or medication, make sure they check your id and verify with your medical chart.
Before surgery, make sure that you understand the plan. You, your doctors and your surgeon need to understand what will be done. Make sure any paperwork properly outlines what the procedure is and what area of your body is undergoing surgery.
After being discharged from the hospital, make sure you have a written treatment plan. Have your doctor and buddy review the plan. Know what medications you have to take, when follow-up appointments should be scheduled, what activities have to be limited and for how long.
These 12 tips are simply a starting point and are by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to take your health into your own hands. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent doctor or hospital negligence from occurring, but by taking these steps and staying actively involved in your care, you will know that you have done everything you can to keep yourself as safe as possible.