Every year, hundreds of thousands of patients fall victim to medical malpractice. While errors in diagnosis and treatment are ultimately the responsibility of the practitioner, it is also incumbent upon patients to be informed consumers and take charge of their health care.
Negligence on the part of your health care provider can lead to costly, painful and even fatal consequences. That is why, as the patient, it is crucial you take certain important steps to help prevent medical errors.
Get a Second Opinion
Physicians are not infallible. When a provider makes a diagnosis, it is based on his or her existing body of knowledge and interpretation of your symptoms, test results and examinations. Given that no two cases are exactly alike, it is possible for a physician to misinterpret your ailment, make an error in diagnosis or prescribe an inappropriate treatment. Thus, all patients should seek a second opinion for serious health problems. Research has found in almost 30 percent of cases, a second opinion leads to a different diagnosis and/or treatment options, but more than half of patients never request one. Getting a second opinion can help you avoid costly or unnecessary treatments, or most importantly, a misdiagnosis.
Research and Ask Questions
Many patients are reluctant to question their health care providers; however, doctors are human beings and they do make mistakes. When you receive a diagnosis, learn about your condition and treatment plan by reading information from reliable sources and asking questions. You have a right to know everything about your care, so if there is something you do not understand, or that seems incorrect, speak up.
Bring Someone With You
When you are facing a serious medical event, processing everything your providers are saying and doing can be challenging. Bring a friend or family member along to your appointments or when you are having a medical procedure. A second person not only offers moral support but can also monitor what is happening with your care and raise issues if you are unable to do so yourself. If something should go awry, he or she can also serve as a witness to what happened and your reaction.
Get Surgery Plans in Writing
Wrong-site surgeries are one of the most common, and most devastating, medical errors. Get a copy of the surgery plan before you go under the knife, and have a conversation with the surgical team before the procedure. This way, everyone knows what is being operated on and the purpose of the procedure. Ask the doctor to physically mark the surgical site with a pen before you receive anesthesia. Some experts recommend even writing a note on yourself along the lines of “Operate on this leg,” before you arrive at the hospital to ensure that the surgeon performs the correct procedure.
The burden of avoiding malpractice falls on your health care professionals, but taking steps to protect yourself can help you avoid the pain that comes from a serious medical error. You are your best advocate.