Tips For Avoiding Medical Errors

During 2008, a congressionally-mandated study on Medicare recipients found that 1 in 7 hospital patients experienced at least one unintended harm that prolonged his or her stay, caused permanent injury, required life-sustaining treatment, or resulted in death. It is very important that you do your best to avoid medical and delivery room errors. Here is a list of ways that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from medical errors:

  • If you have a choice of hospitals, make sure you choose carefully. Be sure to choose a hospital that specializes in the type of procedure that you are scheduled to receive. Also make sure that your doctor has performed the procedure many times and is board certified in his or her specialty. If possible, try to find a hospital with electronic records, which can reduce prescription errors, according to a recent Weill Cornell Medical College study.
  • If you are going to schedule a surgery or medical procedure, try to avoid going to the hospital in the month of July. There is a 10% spike in fatalities at teaching hospitals in July, which has been confirmed by a new Journal of General Internal Medicine study. David Phillips, PhD, the study’s lead author, speculates that the spike in fatalities may occur because that is the month when new doctors-in-training begin their residencies.
  • If possible, avoid scheduling medical procedures or surgeries on weekends, nights, and holidays. In a recent study from the University of Toronto, it was found that patients treated in hospitals on Saturday and Sunday were 16% more likely to die than those treated on weekdays.
  • Have a copy of your medical records when you visit the hospital. In addition to bringing medical records, you should also bring a list of medications, doses, and directions. While at the hospital you will be cared for by a team of doctors and nurses, but there will be one doctor in charge. Know the name and contact information of that doctor.
  • It is always good to bring a friend or family member along when you are staying in a hospital. It is important to have someone to help you keep track of your treatment. Usually, when you are in a hospital you are not feeling well and are more vulnerable than normal, so it is important that you have someone to be your eyes and ears for you during that time.
  • When you’re staying in a hospital make sure that your room is clean and properly disinfected. Make sure anyone who has direct contact with you washes their hands. Hand sanitizer should be kept in your room or just outside your door, but if your not sure it has been used, have your own available. It is also important that your loved ones who visit you have clean hands, too.
  • The potential for infection can be found everywhere in a hospital, including in elevators. Most people don’t wash their hands before getting on the elevator. Use a tissue when handling buttons and knobs.
  • If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done. While doing surgery on the wrong site is rare, it is still a good idea to ask your surgeon to draw the proposed incisions right on the body part that will be operated on, while you are still awake.
  • Make sure to ask for copies of important tests and findings. Don’t ever assume that no news is good news. If results are not provided, ask for them. When you are leaving the hospital, ask your doctor for a copy of your discharge summary and have your doctor explain the treatment plan that you will use at home. Ask for written information about the directions and also the side effects of any medication that you will be using.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, taking part in your care is the single most important thing you can do. The AHRQ provides an additional tip sheet for preventing medical errors on their site. Remember that you need to be your own advocate and not be afraid to ask questions. Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and by using other reliable resources.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a medical error, please contact Reiter & Walsh, P.C. on our toll free number at 888-419-2229 for a free consultation.

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