reducing doctors errors tips from pennsylvanias patient advocates

Every time we visit the doctor or hospital, we put our health, trust and vulnerability in the hands of our health care professionals. We expect to leave healthier than when we were admitted, and we have every right to expect that doctors will not be negligent or make preventable mistakes when they treat us. The truth, however, is that doctors, surgeons, hospitals and health care workers injure patients through negligence and medical malpractice all too often. How can you, as a patient, protect yourself?

March 4-10, is National Patient Safety Awareness Week, and the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority is supporting the campaign by providing patients with tips about steps they can take to help reduce doctors’ errors.

In many situations, diagnostic errors cost patients their lives. As a patient, one of the most important things you can do to prevent a diagnostic error is to make sure you personally give your doctor all the information he or she needs.

Before you visit your doctor, write a list of the things that have been bothering you so you don’t forget anything once you get there. As you are writing your list of symptoms, create a timeline. Remembering the order in which the symptoms appeared can be significant to your diagnosis. Telling your doctor all of your symptoms — even if they seem minor to you — can help him or her diagnose you correctly.

Medication errors, including dangerous drug interactions, can also be deadly. Make sure you also bring a list of all medications you are taking, the dosages and how long you have been on them, along with any medications you have recently stopped taking. This list should include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal products. Finally, it is also important to bring a copy of your medical history. List any surgeries, hospitalizations or major medical problems you have experienced, as well as their outcomes.

When you’re talking with your doctor, don’t be afraid to ask him or her questions such as, “What else could it be?” “Is there anything that doesn’t fit?” and, “Could it be that I have more than one problem?” It is our doctors’ jobs to protect our health and well-being, and there is no excuse for doctor errors. However, if you play an active role in your treatment, you are more likely to have a positive treatment outcome.

Source: Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, “Consumer Tips Guide for Patients and Their Families,” 2012

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