Medical Mistakes

The American healthcare system is regarded as the most sophisticated in the world yet medical errors have been estimated to cause 44,000-98,000 deaths in US hospitals each year. Patient safety and prevention of mistakes have become a top priority and many aggressive measures have been implemented. This can run the gamut from hand washing to marking the site of planned surgery prior to an operation. Both the complexity of healthcare delivery as well as communication issues can play a role in the continuation of this problem.

Outside the hospital, errors can occur in clinics, labs, doctors' offices, nursing homes, pharmacies and can involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, equipment or lab reports. Communication between doctors and their patients is too often rushed or taken for granted. I think it is crucial that every patient understands everything about their diagnosis, tests that need to be done, intended treatment and medications. This takes time and requires plain language that the patient can easily understand and be able repeat when they get home.

Make sure that each of your doctors knows everything you're taking including prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medicines and any dietary supplements. It's a good idea to bring everything to your doctor once a year in a bag to review the ongoing need of each pill and any side effects. Make sure all allergies or unusual reactions to previous medicines are on record. The doctor's handwriting on any prescription should be clear and legible. It is important to understand what each medication is for and what side effects might commonly occur. This includes awareness of conflict between medications; this issue is easily resolved by the use of electronic prescribing systems. A pharmacy study showed that 88% of medicine errors involved either the wrong drug or the wrong dose and it makes sense to ask the pharmacist if your medicine is what the doctor ordered. Make sure you get written information about what side effects to expect.

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