5 tips for protecting yourself against preventable medical mistakes

Patients can reduce their risk of medical errors by educating themselves, communicating well, advocating for themselves and keeping written care records.

Given the complexity of modern medical care, mistakes are an almost unavoidable reality for patients in New York City. Tragically, though, it's not uncommon for patients to suffer grave complications from errors that are entirely unnecessary. According to Newsmax, research indicates that medical errors now represent the third most common cause of death in the U.S. This makes it essential for patients to know how to reduce their risk of suffering harm due to one of these needless errors.

1. Ask questions

It's important for patients to take an active role in their own treatment and understand each aspect of it as well as possible. According to Newsmax, patients should request additional information whenever necessary about various elements of their care, including the following things:

  • The purpose of a medication, test or procedure
  • Side effects or risks associated with a treatment or procedure
  • Future courses of treatment and follow-up care

Asking questions can help patients avoid making decisions or taking risks that they are not comfortable with. Additionally, thoughtful questions can lower the risk of oversights or misunderstandings on the part of medical professionals.

2. Share information

Patients should also take care to ensure that their physicians have all information necessary to avoid mistakes such as medication and pharmacy errors. For example, when a physician is prescribing a drug, patients should disclose all of their current medications, allergies and any relevant lifestyle factors. Patients should also voice their concerns immediately if they believe a physician has made an error or oversight.

3. Stay informed

It's also advisable for patients to familiarize themselves as much as possible with their medical condition, their care options and the backgrounds of their healthcare providers. Understanding a condition and the available treatment options can help patients ensure that they are receiving appropriate, standard care. Taking time to learn about a physician's specializations or a hospital's safety record also can help patients make more effective decisions when choosing a healthcare provider.

4. Act as an advocate

It's important for patients to advocate for themselves and protect their own interests. For example, KOMO News recommends that people receiving inpatient care ask everyone, from staff to visitors, to wash their hands prior to entering the room to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections. Patients may also benefit from bringing another person to all appointments and procedures to note potential errors in diagnosis or treatment, ask difficult questions and otherwise act as advocates.

5. Create written records

Patients can also benefit from maintaining a journal or another type of written record regarding their care, according to the same source. Patients should keep track of appointment dates, tentative and formal diagnoses, prescribed medications and changes in treatment. Patients may also want to consider recording symptoms, questions and other information that they need to share with their physicians in the future.

Addressing unnecessary errors

Unfortunately, patients who take these proactive steps may still be at risk for medical errors, especially when medical professionals or healthcare providers act negligently. However, people who suffer harm due to substandard medical care may have a right to seek recourse through a medical malpractice claim. An attorney may be able to offer further advice on determining liability for a medical error and pursuing fair recompense.