We have written numerous articles emphasizing the importance of being proactive in your medical care. Thoroughly researching potential physicians and hospitals and asking your physician questions about your condition and his or her experience with the condition are essential steps in ensuring you get the best medical treatment. It is also important to have easy access to your own medical records. The story of Steven Keating is an incredible illustration of this point.
Eight years ago, Steven participated in an academic project that involved having a brain scan. The scan revealed that he had a minor brain abnormality that was nothing to worry about, but that should be monitored. The young MIT undergraduate student researched brain structure and function and wayward cells and he obtained a follow up scan in 2010. The scan showed no trouble, but when Steven began experiencing periodic whiffs of the scent of vinegar last summer, he thought it was an indication of a brain problem. Based on the knowledge he had from his brain scan and extensive research, Steven suspected he had “smell seizures.” He persisted in asking physicians to perform an MRI of his brain, which revealed he had a growth. Three weeks later, surgeons removed a tennis ball-sized, cancerous tumor from Steven’s brain.
Steven believes that having access to academic research as well as his own medical information saved his life. Doing extensive research on the brain and knowing that his abnormality was near the olfactory center are what led him to suspect he had a significant problem and thus needed an MRI. Steven is now a passionate advocate of patients having easy access to all of their medical data when they request it.
Although Steven has an estimated 70 gigabytes of his own patient data, he said he encountered a culture of resistance in trying to obtain his medical information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives patients the right to inspect, review and receive copies of their medical records and billing records, yet many people find it difficult to obtain their records due to a resistant medical culture and data that is scattered and compartmentalized. The burden is on the patient to obtain his or her records. Steven had the advantage of being an articulate student of science who studied his condition and knew how and where to get his patient information. But many people get discouraged about the burdensome process of obtaining medical records.
ACCESS TO YOUR OWN MEDICAL RECORDS CAN LEAD TO BETTER HEALTH
Indeed, having easier access to one’s own medical records is extremely beneficial. According to medical experts, full and easier access to medical information leads to better-informed patients who are more likely to take better care of themselves, follow prescribed medication regimens, and detect early warning signs of medical problems. And one preliminary study indicates that giving patients full and easy access to their medical data does not cause physicians to be inundated with time-consuming questions; only 3% of physicians in the study said they spent more time answering questions from patients outside of appointments.
There are efforts throughout the country to help facilitate easy access to a person’s own medical records. Many hospitals and clinics now offer “patient portals,” whereby a patient can log into a site that allows viewing of his or her medical information from that health system. There is also a national project called the “Argonaut Project,” which has the goal of setting open technology standards for all health care systems so that patients can easily view records from multiple institutions. A central focus of the Project is to make medical data sharing easier by having internet-based open messaging and document standards.
Open technology would be advantageous for patients in more ways than just helping them be more well-informed. It would make transfer of medical data easier and faster so that if a patient had to see a specialist or wanted a second opinion, the records could be quickly viewed by a health care provider in a different institution.
PATIENTS OFTEN HAVE DIFFICULTY ACCESSING MEDICAL RESEARCH & OTHER SCHOLARLY PUBLICATIONS
Another issue that can hinder a patient’s ability to be well-informed about medical issues is the fact that a lot of medical research is inaccessible to many people because the journal charges a fee to read an article or purchase a subscription. Professors, physicians and students often have access to numerous academic journals through their university or institution. But for many, attempting to obtain scholarly articles is often frustrating due to the costs associated with each article. Even academic papers that were based on federally-funded research take a year to become freely available online (and after a year, many of these papers are still difficult to obtain). For patients who have a rare medical problem or are considering a controversial treatment, access to new, cutting-edge research may be crucial, especially since new research is accruing so fast that even the best physicians may have a difficult time keeping up to date on it all.
Journals that allow free access are listed on a website called the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). This site is maintained by Infrastructure Services for Open Access (IS4OA), which is a company committed to facilitating access to openly accessible research publications and data. The open access journals listed on DOAJ are defined as scientific and scholarly journals that meet high quality standards by utilizing peer review or editorial quality control.
In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) started requiring scientists receiving NIH grants to have their papers available on PubMed Central within one year. In 2013, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Holdren directed federal agencies to develop plans to make all articles resulting from federally funded research available for free within one year of publication. This has largely been accomplished, although some institutions are still working on implementation.
HOW TO BE PROACTIVE IN YOUR MEDICAL CARE & STAY SAFE IN A HOSPITAL
We’ve written extensively about how to stay safe in a hospital. With medical error being the third leading cause of death in the U.S., hospital safety is a critical issue. Listed below are some key points about being proactive in your medical care.
- Research local hospitals so you know the best one to utilize in a medical emergency.
- If you have a specific condition, research the best physicians in that field. Asking other physicians their opinions on the best specialized physician is a good idea.
- Before having a medical procedure, thoroughly research your medical issues so you can ask a lot of questions. Make sure your physician explains the risk and benefits of and alternatives to your procedure. Ask your physician how many times he/she has performed the surgery or procedure you will be undergoing.
- Receive regular check-ups and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Activate your patient portal if your health system has one. Regardless, you have a right to obtain you and your child’s medical records.
- If something doesn’t seem right, be persistent in asking your physician to perform tests and take investigatory measures. Persistence saved Steven Keating’s life.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE
In protecting your child from medical harm, you can apply the same key points listed above. Research shows that parents are usually the ones who first notice signs of illness or disability in their babies and children. If a child isn’t meeting developmental milestones or just doesn’t seem right, you should visit your pediatrician right away.
Medical mistakes frequently occur during or near the time of birth. When a mother is in the hospital for labor and delivery, it is very important to ask how competent the staff is at interpreting fetal heart rate tracings. It is crucial to make sure that staff is present to review the tracings and that the staff has skill and experience with fetal heart rate assessment. The attending physician should be readily available and should be frequently assessing the mother and baby. A physician should be present at all times if the pregnancy was high risk or there is a high-risk situation occurring, such as a nonreassuring (abnormal) fetal heart rate.
Close monitoring of a baby’s heart rate is important because the fetal heart rate is often the only indication of how well the baby is doing. If a baby starts to suffer from a lack of oxygen to her brain while in the womb, nonreassuring heart tracings will occur.
There are many conditions that can occur during labor and delivery that can cause a baby to be oxygen deprived and in distress. Thus, it is also crucial to make sure the physician has the capacity to perform an emergency C-section if needed. When a baby is in distress, a C-section is often the best (and sometimes only) way to quickly deliver her to prevent brain damage when she is being deprived of oxygen. Certain conditions, such as vasa previa, cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD), total placenta previa and certain breech and face presentations require a C-section delivery.
Listed below are a few important questions to ask a potential obstetrician:
- Are you skilled in fetal heart rate tracing interpretation, and how many years of experience do you have?
- Will my baby have continuous electronic fetal heart rate monitoring?
- Is there at least one other person involved in my labor and delivery that is skilled at fetal heart rate tracing interpretation?
- If my baby becomes distressed, do you have the ability to deliver her very quickly by emergency C-section?
- How many years of experience do you have in performing deliveries and emergency C-sections?
- Is there an additional physician immediately available in the event that multiple dangerous conditions occur simultaneously, such as my baby and I having medical emergencies at the same time?
- Is there proper resuscitation equipment immediately available in case my baby needs to be resuscitated right after delivery?
- Will you please thoroughly explain the risks and benefits of – and alternatives to – any medications (such as Pitocin and Cytotec to induce or speed up labor) or delivery instruments you are going to use (such as vacuum extractors)?
MICHIGAN MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWYERS & BIRTH INJURY ATTORNEYS HELPING CHILDREN FOR ALMOST 3 DECADES
If you experienced medical negligence during labor and delivery and your baby has a birth injury, call Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers. Reiter & Walsh is a national birth injury law firm that has been helping children with birth injuries for almost 3 decades.
Birth injury lawyer Jesse Reiter, president of ABC Law Centers, has been focusing solely on birth injury cases for over 28 years, and most of his cases involve hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy. Partners Jesse Reiter and Rebecca Walsh are currently recognized as being two of the best medical malpractice lawyers in America by U.S. News and World Report 2015, which also recognized ABC Law Centers as one of the best medical malpractice law firms in the nation. The lawyers at ABC Law Centers have won numerous awards for their advocacy of children and are members of the Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ).
If your child was diagnosed with a birth injury, such as cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder or hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), the award winning birth injury lawyers at ABC Law Centers can help. We have helped children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy and a secure future, and we give personal attention to each child and family we represent. Our nationally recognized birth injury firm has numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. Email or call Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers at 888-419-2229 for a free case evaluation. Our firm’s award winning lawyers are available 24 / 7 to speak with you.
VIDEO: MICHIGAN MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWYERS & BIRTH INJURY ATTORNEYS DISCUSS MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE
In this video, Michigan medical malpractice lawyers / birth injury attorneys discuss medical negligence in the delivery room.