Although the medical industry often claims that medical mistakes are not very frequent, research suggests otherwise. According to one Harvard University study, 95 000 people are killed across America each year due to medical malpractice in hospitals. This does not take into account the many people who sustain head injuries, unnecessary amputations, permanent injury, brain injuries, burn injuries and other permanent or serious injuries due to medical mistakes and recklessness. According to a U.S. government study, 10% of physicians need discipline dues to recklessness or negligence, although only six-tenths of one percent of physicians are actually disciplined. This means that the vast majority of unsafe medical professions are still allowed to treat other patients. Often, it is only a tragedy that takes a life that results in discipline.
Although many instances of medical malpractice cannot be prevented because they happen outside of the control of patients – in labs, for example – there are many warning signs that patients can observe. Florida personal injury attorneys with experience in medical malpractice suggest that patients can prevent problems by:
1. Selecting their family doctor carefully. Do research and ask medical professionals as well as friends or family for referrals. Talk to previous patients of your doctor and schedule an interview before you select your doctor. Ask lots of questions about experience, education and procedures. Look for a doctor who is caring, experienced, honest, and board certified. Your family physician will be making many care decisions and will also be in a position to notice medical errors and possible red flags when you are referred to someone else. Look for a doctor who has a clean and organized office and an affiliation with a hospital. This will ensure that medical treatment runs smoothly and will cut your risks of injury and medical mistakes. Also, contact with local court record and the state medical board to determine whether your physician has been sued for malpractice. While everyone can make a mistake once or twice – or be the target of a frivolous lawsuit — multiple suits are a definite warning signs.
2. Taking charge of your own health. Health care service providers are there to provide a service – you are still in charge. Despite this, many patients willingly surrender all their medical care decisions because they assume that doctors are more educated or know more. This can increase the chances of mistakes. Always ask plenty of questions and do your own research into your health conditions and your medication. If your own research uncovers something that gives you pause, ask your doctor about it right away. Consider writing all your questions down and brining a copy of these questions with you to appointments – that way, you won’t overlook anything.
3. Being proactive about lab results. Many people assume that if they don’t hear back from their doctor about test results, that means that there was no problem. Some doctors even tell patients that they will only be contacted in the event that something is wrong. This is a troubling practice, because it can mean that human error – someone forgetting to make a phone call – can postpone diagnosis and treatment. Always schedule a follow-up to discuss test results. Also, do not be shy about asking that tests be sent to a hospital or certified lab. These tend to offer more reliable results than doctors’ laboratories. Most important of all, if you continue to have symptoms even though a test result came back negative, request a second test be done. Many tragedies happen due to lab error.
4. Being careful about surgeries and treatments. If you need surgery, a medical treatment or any other procedure, get lots of information before agreeing. Ask about the procedure, recovery times, risks, benefits and alternative treatments. If your doctor does not have the time to answer all of your questions, find another doctor. Unnecessary treatments and surgical mistakes are a key cause of medical malpractice. Be sure to learn as much as you can about your surgeon and about the staff who will be helping him or her. If you are not comfortable with the surgeon or doctor who will be performing the procedure, do not hesitate to request another professional. If you need surgery, have the surgeon mark the area that will be operated on with pen shortly before the procedure. Wrong-site surgeries are a very common – and very preventable – problem at many hospitals.
5. Bringing a friend. If you are dealing with a stressful medical condition, ask a qualified family member or friend to come with you. If you are meeting with a specialist, consider setting up a consultation with your family doctor and the new professional. Having someone else with you can help you and provide you with support. Another pair of eyes and ears can also help you avoid mistakes and potential problems.
6. Sharing all possible related information. Not sharing information with your doctor can mean that your doctor simply does not have all the facts necessary to treat you. Always give your doctor more information than you think is necessary. List any hereditary illnesses, past medical conditions, and medication (including over the counter supplements) you are taking. Even if this information is in your medical file, your doctor may not notice that information. Remind him or her. Even things that don’t seem important to you – a mild symptom you have that seems unrelated to your condition – can be very important.
7. Trusting yourself. Many patients who worry about a specific medical condition or have a hunch or instinct will not push the issue if their doctor does not agree with their diagnosis. This can be a tragic mistake. If you are worried about something, you have the right to get peace of mind. It does not make you hysterical. If something troubles you, ask your doctor about it and get the appropriate tests. If your doctor refuses, see another doctor. Many people second-guess their instincts because they assume that a doctor knows more than they do. However, each patient knows their own bodies best. If you have a hunch, follow through until you get the answers you need.
8. Being friendly. Get to know everybody involved in your care – this includes receptionists, doctors, surgeons, medical staff, nurses, medical assistants, and anyone else who can impact your health. Ask for and make an effort to remember names. Make sure that these professionals know your name and get to know these people on a personal, first-name basis. It is only human nature to be more careful around people you know personally and you will be more comfortable as well when you know who is involved with your care.
9. Visiting often. Schedule follow-up visits to ensure that all medical problems have been handled. If you are dealing with a chronic illness or non-emergency surgery, get a second opinion or even a third if you need it. Visit doctors and medical professionals as often as you need to to be absolutely sure your concerns have been dealt with. Two equally competent doctors will often have very different approaches, so you should not see a second opinion as a lack of loyalty to your usual doctor. Good doctors will not begrudge you additional information about your options.
10. Not backing down from negligent doctors. If you are the victim of medical malpractice, hire a qualified Florida attorney at once and ensure that the doctor is disciplined. This can help prevent other families from dealing with similar tragedies. Contact lawmakers and policy makers to ensure that patients can speak out and make claims against negligence. Allowing reckless doctors to get away with bad behavior scot-free just devalues everyone’s health care.