According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical errors are responsible for 400,000 deaths in the United States each year. That makes preventable medical errors the third leading cause of death (after cancer and heart disease).
One of the largest contributing factors is that patients do not have a single person coordinating their care. The attorneys at Abramson, Brown & Dugan encounter this all the time when reviewing medical negligence cases—a patient may see ten different specialists and a primary care physician, yet still go undiagnosed and untreated because of a lack of communication between the patient’s providers. The patient falls through the cracks and becomes one of the many in this country who suffer severe injuries or death as a result of preventable medical errors.
Patients are well-served by being their own patient advocate or, in cases in which that is not possible, by asking a close friend or relative to do the job. By coordinating their own care, asking tough questions and being assertive, patients can help prevent medical errors or detect medical errors before serious injuries occur.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Too often, patients do not speak up when things do not make sense to them out of fear of destroying the amicable relationship they have with their doctors. Don’t fall victim to this line of thinking. Ask plenty of questions so you can understand what care you are receiving and why. Form your questions in advance of your appointment and reduce them to writing to make the most of your time with your doctor. Understanding your course of treatment will help you to be a better patient advocate and allow you to make informed healthcare decisions.
2. Know when to seek a second opinion. According to a study published last year in the journal of BMJ Quality & Safety, about 1 in 20 adult patients are misdiagnosed by outpatient providers. The most frequent complaints that were actually signs of more serious medical issues were shortness of breath, cough and abdominal pain. If you have a gut feeling that something just isn’t right, don’t ignore it. Seek input from a second physician before it is too late.
3. Keep your medical records. Doctors may not always have access to all of your prior records. By keeping a copy of your own records, you can easily share information and ensure that the information you are providing is accurate. Today, accessing your records is easier than ever, with many providers allowing access online through a patient portal.
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