Showing posts with label how to avoid medical errors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to avoid medical errors. Show all posts

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 also order appropriate size prescription organizers (Ad) 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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Photo credit:  Google images; cnnpartner images 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Medical Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Did you know medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after cancer and heart disease?  According to a report on the WebMD site, Johns Hopkins researchers estimate that medical errors cause over 250,000 deaths each year.  Fortunately, they also learned there are a number of steps which patients can take to reduce their risk of becoming a victim.

While there are no guarantees your physician will never make a life-threatening error while treating you, the more you do to reduce your risk, the safer you will be.  As a result, it is important you learn everything you can about your health conditions and any procedures which could be involved in treating them.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Medical Errors


Ask Questions About the Medications You are Prescribed:  You do not want to be given the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, so double-check your prescription every time you fill it. Ask questions about any change.  Does it look or taste differently?  Has the pill size or color changed?  It is possible you were given the wrong dosage.  In addition, any time you visit a doctor take a list of your current medications with you, so your doctor will know what you are already taking.  Repeat this process every time you go.  You cannot assume your doctor will remember what you are taking, nor can you assume everything written in your record is 100% correct.

Do Not Ask For Unneeded Antibiotics:  Antibiotics are only useful against bacteria, not the viruses which cause colds and the flu.  Do not press your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic if you do not absolutely need it.  You want to make sure antibiotics will work for you when they are really necessary.

Stay in the Hospital a Reasonable Length of Time:  Researchers have discovered that people who stay in the hospital either too long or too short a time are more likely to become ill again.  Do not rush your doctor to send you home and do not beg to stay longer than necessary.  If you are going to be transferred to a rehab facility, such as after hip replacement surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital for at least three nights before Medicare will pay for the rehabilitation.  Discuss this with hospital staff so your stay in the hospital is the optimal length of time, both for your health and your wallet.

Mark the Spot Before a Surgery:  The last thing either you or your doctor wants to happen is for you to have surgery in the wrong place or on the wrong organ.  Before you are given anesthesia, you or your doctor should mark the exact spot where they will be operating.  Try to confirm what is happening with the surgical assistants as often as possible while you are still conscious.  In well-run facilities, the nurses and other staff will often repeat to you several times the location and type of procedure they will be performing.  Do not get impatient with this repetition.  It is for your protection.

Pay Attention to How You Feel After the Surgery:  Of course it is normal to feel weak, tired and have some pain after surgery.  You may also be groggy from the anesthesia.  However, if the pain is severe, there is unusual swelling, you have a high fever, nausea or bowel problems, let your doctor know.  You could have an infection and it is even possible the surgeon left a sponge or instrument in your body.  That might seem impossible, but it does happen more often than you realize!

Be a Responsible Patient:  Follow your doctor's instructions.  Schedule tests, take your medications, get rest, go to physical therapy, get back on your feet and walk when asked, and carefully follow the medical advice your physician recommends.  By doing your part, your outcome is likely to be better.

Be an Educated Patient:  Choose a physician and, when possible, a hospital which has the best possible record for treating your condition.  Learn everything you can about your illness or injury and the different types of treatment. Use reliable sites such as, or the official organization for your disease to learn everything you can.  After learning all you can online, follow-up with any specific questions you have by talking to your doctor.  If your physician contradicts what you have read, do not be afraid to ask why.  Be sure you get your questions answered and, if you still have concerns, get a second opinion.

Ask for Help:  If you are receiving treatment from a specialist, be sure to keep your primary care doctor in the loop.  They will know about your other medical conditions and can help coordinate your care. For example, when my husband had a heart attack, the hospital and surgeon had to take special precautions because of my husband's kidney disease. The heart surgeon discussed my husband's treatment with his nephrologist (kidney doctor) before the surgery.  This was very reassuring to us. The more different health issues you have, the more you will need the help of a primary care doctor to coordinate your care.

In addition, ask a family member or a friend to be nearby when you have surgery and to keep track of what is going on during a hospital stay.  If you are under anesthesia, in a medically induced coma, or sleeping continually, you will be much safer if there is someone else who can speak to the doctors and make sure their instructions are being carried out by the hospital staff.

While it may be impossible for patients to avoid all the possible causes of medical errors, it is their responsibility to make sure they do not contribute to any mistakes.

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

You are reading from the blog:

Photo credit:  Google images from CNN