When you think about the top causes of death in the U.S., what likely springs to mind are diseases like cancer and heart disease and car accidents. While heart disease and cancer are the first and second leading causes of death, the third is actually preventable medical errors. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming a victim of these preventable mistakes.
According to a study published in Journal of Patient Safety, preventable adverse effects are responsible for between 210,000 and 400,000 deaths in U.S. hospitals each year or about 1,000 deaths a day. In addition, these errors are also linked to the occurrence of 10,000 serious complications per day. While those statistics are alarming, there are steps you can and should take to lower your risk of being affected by a preventable medical error.
Six actions that could save your life
There are six actions you should take whenever you’re receiving medical care, both in the hospital and out, that can help protect you from medical errors.
- Ask questions and raise concerns. One of the most important things you can do is to be an active partner in your care. If you have questions or concerns about your diagnosis or treatment options, tell your doctor. If you don’t fully understand any aspect of your care, there’s no reason to be embarrassed. Ask for a clearer explanation in layman’s terms.
- Pay careful attention to the care you receive. Whether you’re in the hospital, at the doctor’s office or at home, make sure that the treatments and medications you receive are the ones ordered or prescribed. Check to make sure the prescriptions you pick up are accurate. In the hospital, make sure the nurse, technician or physician checks your ID before providing any medicine or treatment. If you’re seriously ill or have just had surgery, ask a family member or friend to take on these responsibilities.
- Learn about your condition. An educated patient is better prepared to make important medical decisions. Ask your doctor for a copy of your appointment notes or any printed materials he or she has on your condition. Take time to learn about your diagnosis from reputable resources on the Internet like the websites of medical centers of excellence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. A health advisor is another resource for evidence-based information on health issues and treatment options.
- Know what medications you take and why. Medication errors are the most common type of healthcare mistake. Keep a list of all medications and supplements you take, their dosages, and what condition they were prescribed to treat with you in your wallet or on your smartphone and share that information with every physician who treats you. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to any medication, make sure to note that.
- Seek care at accredited hospitals. While it’s not a guarantee that your care will be error-free, it’s a good idea to receive care at hospitals that have undergone rigorous on-site evaluation of quality and safety standards, such as that provided by the Joint Commission.
- If your condition is serious, get a second opinion. Whenever you are diagnosed with a serious health problem or are told you need surgery, seek a second opinion from a physician who has a high level of experience treating patients with the health issue you face. That physician can confirm your current diagnosis and treatment recommendation or suggest alternative treatments that you should consider.
Being an informed, involved, proactive patient is the best defense against medical errors.