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How can I protect myself from medical error?

Medical error is more commonplace than many Americans realize. According to Consumer Reports, an estimated 440,000 Americans die each year after suffering medical errors. To be fair, it isn’t clear how closely medical errors are tied to those patient deaths—not every medical error is serious enough to cause a significant impact— but the problem is serious enough that patient safety advocates have been calling for changes. One of the changes being recommended is the creation of an agency to handle patient safety complaints to help improve patient safety.

Whether or not such an agency is created, patients are well advised to do what they can to ensure their own safety.  Although the way medical services are purchased is currently very different from the way other goods and services are purchased, there are some steps that can be taken. 

One of the thing patients can do to increase their safety is to obtain informed consent papers as far in advance of treatment as possible. Too often, patients are provided these forms immediately prior to treatment and do not have time to adequately digest the information, ask questions, and consider alternative courses of treatment. In some cases, a second or third opinion could be helpful to clarify a diagnosis and ensure proper treatment. After all, there is no need to go through a risky treatment or surgery when less risky and equally effective options are available.

It can also be helpful for patients to have a conversation with the provider about his or her performance history. In the case of a physician in training, there is little to no history and patients who are not comfortable with this should be clear about exactly who will be providing their treatment.

Those who are harmed by serious medical error, of course, have the right to seek appropriate compensation when appropriate and should try to work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney when pursuing such cases.

Source: Consumer Reports, “6 insider tips for safer surgery,” Joel Keehn, Nov. 2014. 

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