When you’re sick or hurt, you’re already in a vulnerable position — and then you have to trust your life to the medical providers you see in a hospital or clinic.
That’s scary, especially when you consider the fact that your odds of dying in the United States from a medical mistake are about one in 10.
What can patients do to improve their safety?
You have no choice but to be a “proactive patient” if you want to protect yourself from medical mistakes. Here’s how to do it:
- Write down your medical history. This includes both any current medical conditions you have had and any major illnesses, hospitalizations or surgeries you’ve had in the past.
- Keep a complete list of your medications. Make sure that you also write down any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like allergy meds, vitamins and herbal supplements. Make sure that every doctor is aware of your medications.
- Make a list of your drug allergies. Whether it’s a problem with penicillin or iodine, an allergic reaction can be fatal. Make sure that your chart clearly reflects which drugs you should never be prescribed.
- Guard against infection. Roughly one out of every 25 hospital patients end up with an infection while they’re there. Don’t be afraid to call out a doctor or nurse if they approach you without putting on clean gloves or washing their hands.
- Ask a lot of questions. If you’re scheduled for tests, find out why. If you’re being told you have a certain diagnosis, ask how the doctor arrived at that conclusion. If you’re being handed pills to take or about to get an IV, ask what those pills are or what’s in the bag.
- Insist on coordinated care. If you’re in the hospital through a shift change (or several) or see a whole parade of doctors while you’re there, make sure that everyone is communicating clearly with each other about your care. If necessary, ask for a hospitalist to take charge and coordinate your care.
Finally, if you hate to be “that patient” or just aren’t very assertive, ask a relative or a friend to go with you to the hospital and be your advocate. They can be your backup and a sort of personal “guardian angel” during your stay.
Despite your best efforts, you can still end up a victim of medical malpractice. If that happens, you have every right to hold the doctor, nurse or hospital accountable for their lapses.