We are all human, and make mistakes, but in the field of medicine, errors may be costly. In a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, between 44,000 and 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals as a result of medical mistakes. More persons die from medical errors than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or Aids.
Most people hate to ask their doctors many questions, because they are intimidated by the fact that the doctor is busy and in a rush to get to the next patient. You are as important as that next person. If you leave your doctor’s visit with questions on your mind about a certain procedure or medication they have prescribed, you are putting your complete faith in them. You must be an integral part of your healthcare team. If you have children or elderly parents, you are a very important member of their healthcare team!
Be sure to tell your physician every type of medication you are taking, vitamins, herbs, over-the-counter drugs, as well as all prescriptions, and any adverse reactions you have had in the past to certain medications. If you have trouble reading the doctor’s script, ask him the name of it, and be sure your pharmacists can read it, as well. This is one way to ensure that a mistake won’t be made. Most pharmacies include written instructions and information on side effects of the medicine, so be sure you read that completely.
Medical errors can occur in hospitals, clinics, doctor’ offices, nursing homes, patient homes, or outpatient services. Mistakes can be made during operations, diagnostics, with equipment, reading lab reports, or from a routine task such as giving a high-salt meal to a patient on a salt-free diet. Hospital patients should ask their health care workers if they have washed their hands before touching them; hospital-associated infections are very common. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges its members to initial the surgery site prior to surgery; you want to be sure they are putting a new joint in the right place!
Should you receive a diagnosis that you question, make arrangements to see another physician, someone who is not associated with your doctor. Getting a second opinion is very important in certain illnesses. Sign a release to pick up your lab work results. Too often the nurse will call and say “everything’s fine,” and hopefully it is. But they may miss some critical part of the report, and it doesn’t hurt to ask a professional to look at your results. Your doctor may not make the mistake; it could be a radiologist or pathologist that may misinterpret the x-rays or other tests. My physician asked one time for a third reading of an x-ray for me because two radiologists came up with completely different diagnoses. He sent it to a third one, whose opinion barely agreed with one of the others. If that happens, who are you to believe? It can be very scarey.
We aren’t undermining hospitals and physicians in any way; they are diligent in their efforts to keep us well. It is merely an effort to encourage you to be involved and understand what is going on anytime you are being cared for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. From experience, most of us have sat in hospital rooms with family members and wondered if the outcome would have been different if we had asked for more information. If you feel that you or a family member is not being attended as you/they should be, speak up. Remember, you must be the guardian for yourself, as well as your loved ones.