How Patients Can Protect Themselves From Medical Errors

Surgeries are essential, yet delicate procedures. They can be life-saving measures when successful, and tragic mishaps when errors occur. According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, medical errors (or medical negligence) are the leading cause of patient injuries and deaths in the United States. Hospitals and medical professionals must keep track of information concerning thousands of patients. With the amount of information being passed between nurses, physicians and other specialists, mistakes invariably occur.

In fact, the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare indicates that nearly 80% of medical errors are caused by poor communication between health care teams. Last year, it released a study indicating that wrong site surgeries and procedures occurred nearly 40 times per week across the U.S. Clearly, communication lapses can lead to a number of issues, including missed treatments and prescription errors; all of which could result in harm to patients.

While doctors and nurses bear a specific responsibility to ensure patient safety, patients can also take steps to protect themselves from mistakes. The following tips can offer some measure of protection and reduce the risk of errors:

Speak up and ask questions: There's nothing wrong with asking your doctor to explain how the procedure will affect you. Most doctors relish the opportunity to discuss how the surgery will work, what the recovery time will be like, and how soon you can resume normal activity.

Know Your Treatment Options: If you don't understand or disagree with the course of action, that is helpful as well. Take time to educate yourself about your conditions and understand the different options available to you. Perhaps surgery is not the only way to remedy what ails you. Also a second opinion may help you in making a decision about treatment.

Know Who's on Your Team: When you're in the hospital, get to know the different people who will be caring for you and learn how they work together. Most patients will see a nurse, nursing assistant, doctor as well as a hospitalist during their stay. Having a basic understanding of how they interact and pass information is helpful in making sure that critical information is not missed.

Ultimately, medical professionals owe a duty to patients to use reasonable care in rendering treatments. As such, medical malpractice occurs when a physician (or nurse) breaches this duty by deviating from accepted standards of practice, and that such a breach results in harm to the patient. If you have questions about medical negligence or believe you have been injured due to malpractice, an experienced attorney can advise you.