11 Steps to Protecting Yourself Against Medical Errors and Taking Control of Your Health Care
Steps to Safer Health Care in West Virginia
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, patient safety is one of the Nation’s most pressing health care challenges. A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year because of medical errors.
Medical errors can occur anywhere in West Virginia health care systems: In hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and patients’ homes. Errors can involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, equipment, or lab reports, and one in seven Medicare patients in hospitals are affected by a medical error.
The tips below include those developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe — Take Control of Your Health Care
The best way you can help to prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team. That means taking part in every decision about your health care. Research shows that patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results. If you pay more attention to your healthcare, your doctor is likely to do the same.
1. Ask questions if you have doubts or concerns
Ask questions and make sure you understand the answers. Choose a doctor you feel comfortable talking to. Take a relative or friend with you to help you ask questions and understand the answers.
2. Keep and bring a list of ALL the medicines you take.
Give your doctor and pharmacist a list of all the medicines that you take, including non-prescription medicines. Tell them about any drug allergies you have. Ask about side effects and what to avoid while taking the medicine. Read the label when you get your medicine, including all warnings. Make sure your medicine is what the doctor ordered and know how to use it. Ask the pharmacist about your medicine if it looks different than you expected.
3. Get the results of any test or procedure.
Ask when and how you will get the results of tests or procedures. Don’t assume the results are fine if you do not get them when expected, be it in person, by phone, or by mail. Call your doctor and ask for your results. Ask what the results mean for your care.
4. Talk to your doctor about which hospital is best for your health needs.
Ask your doctor about which hospital has the best care and results for your condition if you have more than one hospital to choose from. Be sure you understand the instructions you get about follow-up care when you leave the hospital.
5. Make sure you understand what will happen if you need surgery.
Make sure you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done during the operation. Ask your doctor, “Who will manage my care when I am in the hospital?” Ask your surgeon:
- Exactly what will you be doing?
- About how long will it take?
- What will happen after the surgery?
- How can I expect to feel during recovery?
Tell the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses about any allergies, bad reaction to anesthesia, and any medications you are taking.
6. Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.
For example, treatment options based on the latest scientific evidence are available from the Effective Health Care Web site. Ask your doctor if your treatment is based on the latest evidence.
7. Make sure that someone, such as your primary care doctor, coordinates your care.
This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in the hospital.
8. Make sure that all your doctors have your important health information.
Do not assume that everyone has all the information they need.
9. Ask a family member or friend to go to appointments with you.
This will likely make you feel more comfortable in speaking up for yourself, and your friend or family member may pick up something you missed. Your doctor is likely to be more alert with another set of eyes in the room.
10. Know that “more” is not always better.
It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You could be better off without it since some tests can prove harmful.
If you have a test, do not assume that no news is good news.
Ask how and when you will get the results.
11. Get a Second Opinion
When in doubt about a doctor’s opinion, you have a right to seek a second opinion, and it’s often a great idea to get a second opinion.
How to Keep Yourself Safe with Medicines
Make sure that all of your doctors know about every medicine, supplement, vitamin and over-the-counter medicine you are taking.
Bringing all of your medicines and supplements to your doctor visits can help you and your doctor talk about them and find out if there are any problems. It can also help your doctor keep your records up to date and help you get better quality care.
When your doctor writes a prescription for you, make sure you can read it.
If you cannot read your doctor’s handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either. This will also help you make sure the pharmacist gives you the right medication.
Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand—both when your medicines are prescribed and when you get them:
What is the medicine for?
How am I supposed to take it and for how long?
What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
Ask for written information about the side effects your medicine could cause.
If you know what might happen, you will be better prepared if it does or if something unexpected happens.
If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who will touch you whether they have washed their hands.
Handwashing can prevent the spread of infections in hospitals.
When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will follow at home.
This includes learning about your new medicines, making sure you know when to schedule follow-up appointments, and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities.
It is important to know whether or not you should keep taking the medicines you were taking before your hospital stay. Getting clear instructions may help prevent an unexpected return trip to the hospital.
If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done.
Having surgery at the wrong site (for example, operating on the left knee instead of the right) is rare. But even once is too often. The good news is that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. Surgeons are expected to sign their initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.
If you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need.
Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.
Free Consultation with Experienced West Virginia Medical Negligence Lawyer
We wish everyone safety, health, and great medical care. However, if you or a loved one has been injured or died as a result of what you suspect to be a medical error or nursing home negligence, we invite you to call West Law Firm for a free consultation. Call our toll free number today to speak with an experienced medical negligence lawyer. Our toll free number is 1-877-943-9378, and there’s never a fee unless and until we recover money for you.
Brooks West is a West Virginia personal injury lawyer who helps people who have been injured by negligence or wrongful conduct. He is the President and founder of West Law Firm and has been an attorney since 2005. Brooks is a Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum member and has been awarded the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale-Hubbell.