Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Common Medical Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

As we age and develop a wider variety of health issues, our risk of becoming the victim of a medical mistake increases.  In fact, the problem is extremely common.  Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate that over 250,000 people of all ages die as a result of medical mistakes every year!  While there is no way to guarantee that you will not become a victim, too, there are a few steps you can take which will lower your risk.  First, you have to understand the most common medical mistakes we all face, and then learn the steps you can take to prevent them.

How You can Avoid Common Medical Mistakes

Do research on your doctors - Not only will most people need to choose a primary care physician, but they are also likely to need specialists such as a gynecologist, cardiologist, internist, or surgeon.  Look them up online and make sure they do not have a history of lawsuits, complaints or problems with the state medical board.  In addition, see if you can find as many doctors as possible who are part of the same practice and have admitting privileges in the same hospital.  In the event of a crisis, this can save a lot of time and confusion. 

In California, where we live, we have found that using the Kaiser Permanente doctors and hospitals have simplified our lives.  Most of the specialists are near our home and in the same building.  My husband is dealing with both chronic kidney disease and a blood cancer (as well as other conditions), and during one of his appointments, his kidney doctor left briefly during an examination and went down the hall to talk to the blood cancer doctor, before he changed a prescription.  We really appreciate how connected they are and realize that their ability to quickly and easily talk to each other reduces his risk of having one of them make a medication error. 

Keep Track of Medications - The older you get, the more medications you may take. Your doctors may accidentally give you two medications which conflict with each other, or your pharmacist may hand you the wrong prescription.  The best defense is to question both your doctor and pharmacist about every prescription.  Carry a list with you of all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter vitamins and herbal remedies.  Update it any time there is a change. Give copies of the list to all your physicians, including your dentist.  If a doctor prescribes something new, ask them if the new medication should be taken in addition to what you are already taking, or if you should drop one of the others. Read the disclosures and instructions which come with most medications and, if you do not receive printed information, look it up online.  Finally, look at the pills every time you pick up your prescription and question the pharmacist if it looks different than normal.  Have they made an error?  Have they replaced your prescription with a similar, but different prescription?  Pay attention to what you are taking.  You can use this Amazon link to order appropriate size prescription organizers to keep your medications in order and to be certain you take them at the right time of day.

Do not misuse antibiotics - If you take too many antibiotics, too frequently, they may stop working for you.  Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, not viruses.  Do not ask for antibiotics if the doctor says you have a virus.  When you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure you take them all. If you stop too soon, your infection may come back and be harder to treat.

Choose the best hospital  - Do your research and choose the best hospital in your community.  In particular, pick the one with the most experience with your condition.  If you have surgery, make sure they perform that particular surgery frequently.  Afterwards, you do not want to rush home too quickly. If you do go home too soon, you are more likely to return to the hospital with an infection or other problem.  However, you do not want to stay too long, either, because that can also result in an increased risk of infection.  Discuss with your doctor how long you should stay to maximize the benefit and minimize the risk.

Mark the spot for surgery - We have all heard of dramatic cases where doctors operated on the wrong eye or limb.  Do not let this happen to you.  Make sure the doctor marks the right spot on your body before doing surgery.  They are often very busy and may do multiple surgeries in one day.  Be certain they are clear about the surgery they are performing on you.

Post-surgery follow-ups; make sure nothing was left behind - Another surgery risk is that the team may leave a sponge, clamp or other instrument in your body.  If you notice any odd symptoms after surgery, including unexpectedly serious pain, swelling, fever, nausea or bowel problems, discuss the issue with your doctor.  They may have to do imaging tests to see if anything was left behind.  You do not want to ignore the issue, because it could cause an infection or serious internal problems.

Do not spend too much time in bed - After major surgery or a serious injury, all you may want to do is spend time in bed.  However, too much bed rest can cause you to lose muscle mass and bone density, or cause problems with your heart, lungs and other body systems.  Get out of bed as soon as your doctor recommends, even if you do not feel like it. If necessary, use a walker or ask another adult to help you move around regularly.

Avoid delays in treatment - Another issue comes up when your physician either fails to diagnose your problem, or is not prompt about contacting you about test results and treatment options.  If you are not satisfied with a doctor's diagnosis, especially if they say nothing is wrong, get a second opinion.  If you get a test and there seems to be a delay in hearing the results, do not wait for the doctor to call you. Call their office, instead.  Once you have a diagnosis, be your own advocate and find out your treatment options as soon as possible.

Do your part to take care of your health - Staying healthy can involve much more than simply taking medications.  Many illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease, require you to follow specific diets if you are going to maintain your health.  You may want to see a nutritionist to discuss the correct diet for your condition.  Medications alone will not stabilize these chronic health issues.  In addition to diet, it is important for patients to find trustworthy websites and learn as much as they can about their conditions.  Good websites are WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and the national association for your specific health condition.  Discuss what you learn with your own doctor and ask lots of questions.

Do not try to handle your medical problems by yourself - Whether you share your medical concerns and information with a spouse, adult child, or friend, it is important to have at least one other person on your "team."  Why?  What happens if you are unconscious in the hospital or mentally confused at the time of treatment?  You need a point person who is knowledgeable and able to discuss your treatment and medical condition with doctors, hospital staff and paramedics.  This point person can also be your primary care physician, although it is also helpful if you have someone else who is personally close to you, as well.

Following the above recommendations may not guarantee you will never be the victim of a medical error, but it will decrease your risk.  In addition, if you do your part, you will also improve your chances of recovering from any mistakes which do happen, such as a mix-up with a prescription.

If you are interested in learning more about common health issues as we age, Medicare, Social Security, where to retire, financial planning, travel and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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