Millions of Americans walk each year for breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and polycystic kidney disease. So why isn’t there a walk for medical errors, the third leading cause of death in the United States?
By the latest estimate, medical mistakes kill more than 400,000 Americans each year. Few people realize how common they are — they tend not to make an impression unless you, or a loved one, are on the receiving end of one.
The National Academy of Medicine and other experts are working to reduce medical errors. But they can’t do it alone. Patients, their family members, and other caregivers can — and must — play important roles.
Their involvement is more important than ever.
Doctors and nurses face mounting pressure, thanks in part to today’s increasingly complex health care structures and technological advances.
Electronic health records often make their day-to-day workloads heavier, not lighter, and the time allotted for patient visits is shrinking.
After my son died, I founded Zaggo, a nonprofit organization for patients and families. As part of my work,
I arm patients and their families with the tools and information they need to be effective members of their medical teams.
Here are some of the main things I recommend for preventing medical mistakes:
Know your medications
Medication errors affect nearly 1.5 million Americans a year. (That’s 2,739 every day)
That’s why it is important to check medications before taking them. If you are prescribed a new medication, understand when and how to take it, what it is supposed to do for you, and what the possible side effects are.
If you are given a medicine that doesn’t look familiar, either at the pharmacy or in the hospital, speak up.
I know of several people who were given the wrong medication while hospitalized. Luckily, they knew enough to alert the nurse and didn’t take it. Unfortunately, many people put their full trust in health care providers and don’t speak up even if they see a medication that doesn’t look right.
Be vigilant about handwashing
Up to half of health care professionals don’t regularly wash their hands before patient contact. That’s an important cause of health care-acquired infections.
Although it can be difficult to ask a health care provider to wash his or her hands or put on clean gloves, each of us must feel empowered to do this.
Author: Roberta Carson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Roberta on Twitter @ZaggoCare
The site Ms. Carson created is quite useful. She has many good ideas for record keeping and organization that an involved patient needs.
- It is important to be involved. Don’t be afraid to be the “squeaky wheel”. Be politely assertive. Advocate. Ask questions. Speak up if something doesn’t seem right.
- You might have to tell the patient’s story to many different doctors at different points in the process. Do not shorten the story or leave out important details because you are frustrated by having to repeat yourself.
- Realize you have the right to refuse or delay a medication, test or treatment, even when in the hospital. If you are not certain that a medication is correct, or a procedure is needed, speak up. All medications and procedures have possible side effects and risks.
- Go to all medical appointments prepared with your written questions and concerns.
- Bring all of your related medical records with you for each appointment. Do not assume that each of your doctors has received notes and test results from the other doctors on your team.
- Take notes. Use a notebook to keep track of everything – including your questions and the corresponding answers, medications prescribed and used, other recommendations, symptoms and test results.
- Follow up on test results with your doctor if you have not heard back within the expected time frame.
- Carry your list of medications with you at all times.