Preventing Medical Errors
Did you know that medical errors can happen almost anywhere within the healthcare system? According to a recent news release and fact sheet from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), it is extremely important for patients to understand the risks of medical negligence and to take steps to prevent injuries. As with many kinds of accidents, knowledge is key to prevention when it comes to medical errors.
The AHRQ emphasizes that around one out of seven Medicare patients will be injured by a medical error while in the hospital. However, medical errors certainly are not confined to the hospital setting. They frequently take place in the following areas of the healthcare system as well:
- Outpatient clinics;
- Surgery centers;
- Physicians’ offices;
- Nursing homes;
- Pharmacies; and
- Patients’ homes.
Indeed, medical errors can even happen in your own home. The AHRQ points out, “errors can involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, equipment, or lab reports.” They can even happen when you visit a doctor for a routine check-up.
What do some common medical errors look like when they occur during routine procedures? For instance, you might be concerned that you have a sinus infection, and you visit an outpatient clinic over the weekend to receive treatment. The physician on call has had a particularly busy day, and she forgets to double-check your current prescriptions against the medicine she prescribes for your sinus infection. It turns out that taking the prescription medicine for the sinus infection along with your current medications results in a serious injury.
The AHRQ provides another hypothetical example concerning routine hospital care. Imagine that you are a patient at the hospital. You have nearly recovered from your minor surgery, and you are set to be discharged in just a couple of days. Your health condition requires that you eat a low-sodium diet, but one of the nurses delivers a high-sodium dinner that results in a severe injury. In both cases, these errors could have been prevented.
Safety Steps to Prevent Medical Errors
While healthcare professionals have a duty to those seeking and receiving care, it is also extremely important for patients to be vigilant about their own health. From double-checking to speaking up when you have questions, you can help keep yourself injury-free by following the AHRQ recommended steps to ensure your own safety:
- When it comes to medicines, be sure that every healthcare provider you see knows about each and every medication you currently take, including all dietary supplements, over-the-counter drugs, and prescriptions. You should also be sure to emphasize any medication allergies to ensure that your doctor does not end up prescribing a drug that could produce a deadly interaction.
- If you are unable to read the prescription written by your doctor or nurse practitioner, there is a chance that your pharmacist might not be able to read it either. Make sure that you have a clearly written prescription that can be filled without error.
- Ask your doctor questions about your medicine. It is important that you know precisely what the drug is for, how to take it properly, and what its known side effects might be.
- If you are not 100% clear about the directions on your drug label, ask your pharmacist for help.
- When you are in the hospital, ask each healthcare worker whether he or she has washed her hands before providing you with care.
- When you are having surgery, choose a surgery center or hospital where that particular surgery is performed on a routine basis. According to the AHRQ, “research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.”
- Do your own research on your diagnosis, and never be afraid to seek out second opinions.
- Always ask questions when you have them—whether it is a question about your medication or a question about a procedure - you have the right to ask.
If you were injured because of a medical error, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today to determine your rights.