Seven Secrets to Avoid Being the Victim of a Medical Mistake
There are simple things you can do to minimize your chances of being the victim of a medical mistake. Many of these techniques are simple consumer techniques with which you are already familiar. Others involve using resources that are readily available on the web. If you or someone you love is facing a medical procedure, suffers from a long-term condition, or just needs regular care, read this to find out what you can do to protect yourself from carelessness of your medical providers.
Some experts estimate that there are over 98,000 deaths from medical mistakes every year. If you’re considering a medical procedure or course of care, read here for seven simple things that you can do to protect yourself from medical errors.
The most important thing you can do to avoid being the victim of medical negligence is to think for yourself. Fortunately, you’re up to the task. You’ve handled major life decisions like buying a car or house, deciding where to send your children to school, and selecting a college. On each of those occasions, you educated yourself about your options and you shopped around. Your choice of a physician and the management of your treatment is not very different from any of those other events in your life.
Start by choosing your doctor. Here are a few things to do:
1. Ask friends and colleagues. These folks may not be medically knowledgeable, but they can at least alert you to such things as whether the doctor is someone who listens and spends time with patients or is inattentive and short with his time. Friends and colleagues might also be able to report other obvious red flags, like a drug or alcohol problem. Remember, though, that the value of the information from these sources is usually in the doctor’s demeanor and reputation and rarely offers insight into the doctor’s technical capability.
2. Ask nurses and other health care workers. Nurses can be incredibly valuable sources of information, particularly if they work at a local hospital rather than at a physician’s office. You should make it clear that you can offer them confidentiality. They may be willing to share with you the inside story on your community’s physicians.
3. Check online resources. There are some sites that specialize in compiling information about physicians, such as Healthgrades.com and Ratemds.com. Consider whether the information is provided anonymously and be alert to the possibility that internet forums can be magnets for the chronically malcontent.
4. Check for board certification. To be board certified, a physician must pass written and oral testing and be peer reviewed. Board certification is one way of determining whether a physician has met standards that are particular to their specialty and that go beyond the bare minimum requirement for licensure.
5. Trust your judgment. The choice of a doctor isn’t a lifelong commitment. If you determine that your doctor isn’t meeting your expectations, e.g. she’s inattentive, unprepared, inaccessible, or non-responsive, you should find another doctor. Keep your expectations reasonable, but don’t be afraid to listen to the voice in your head warning you that your physician isn’t up to the task.
Once you’ve selected your physician, there are two more things that you can do to help yourself.
6. Learn about your condition. Does your doctor have any pamphlets on your condition? This is a fine place to start. Consider online resources, particularly sites that are sponsored by nationally recognized organizations associated with your illness such as the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society. Reference sources like a medical dictionary or the Physician’s Desk Reference can supply you with definitions and information about your medication.
7. Consider specialty centers. Your local hospital may be well-equipped to handle your care, but you should consider researching medical centers that specialize in your condition. A second opinion is always a good idea.
In sum, never stop thinking, evaluating, and asking questions. You are your best protection against an avoidable medical error.