Medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Often completely out of your control, it can happen without your awareness or when you and your physician have difficulties communicating. You can, however, take steps to minimize the risk and improve your overall healthcare experience. In fact, being an informed patient can help you find solutions to your medical problems more efficiently.
Here are some of the best ways to avoid becoming a victim of medical malpractice:
- Remember that you are in control. Doctors only evaluate symptoms and recommend treatments based on empirical research and practice. They only know what they can detect medically and what you tell them. If you are uncomfortable with something or something does not sound right, politely refuse and get a second opinion or do more research on your own.
- Interview your doctors. Everyone needs a primary care physician, dentist, and eye doctor. Women also need to see a gynecologist. It is important that you find a practice and medical group you can trust. Talk to your doctors before choosing them as your primary providers and ask questions about their histories, the specialists they work with, and any other questions or concerns you may have. A doctor you have a good relationship with can help you find other healthcare practitioners and facilities that align with your beliefs and treatment preferences.
- Bring a friend. You may not need an extra person there for a regular checkup, but it is always a good idea to bring someone else with you to procedures and for emergency situations. Have him or her help you ask questions beforehand and monitor your care during and after a procedure. Medication and treatment errors are more likely to occur while you are anesthetized or groggy; an extra person in the room can help monitor your care when you cannot.
- Know your surgeon. Most hospitals and healthcare facilities have patients meet with their surgeons before a major procedure. Always take the opportunity to meet with your surgeon beforehand, if possible. If you cannot, find a pen or marker and mark the physical location of the procedure on your body, and tell a nurse you have done so. Many surgeons will do this as part of their standard practices, but if they do not, it could save you from having the wrong surgery.
- Do your research. The internet has become a powerful tool for patients. Always look up a diagnosis after you have received it and before you agree to any form of a treatment plan. If you have any doubts, get a second opinion. Do not trust a doctor just because he or she has a medical degree. Doctors cannot experience your symptoms with you, and they can make mistakes. Until you hear a diagnosis that lines up exactly with what you are experiencing, keep searching for an answer.
- Look up your medications. Medication errors that look simple on paper can be deadly. The wrong blood pressure or diabetes medication may have the complete opposite effect on your body. Look at the warnings, common uses, side effects, and recommended dosage before taking the first dose. If something does not look quite right, double-check with your nurse, pharmacist, or doctor’s office.
You are primarily responsible for your health, so taking every chance you can to become an informed patient can greatly decrease the risk of malpractice. Avoid going to healthcare clinics you have not researched, and look for doctors who are board certified and carry medical malpractice insurance. Keep a medical information card in your wallet in case of emergencies. A little extra work now can make all the difference when it comes to getting high-quality medical care.