The news stories that make me squirm the most are the ones showing the failures in health care. As a nurse, I took great care to not harm anyone, and hopefully to help everyone under my watch. I made a few mistakes, but nothing serious. I was honest about my errors, and always told my patients about my mistakes, and the measures I took to correct them. Thank goodness, no one was harmed.
The other thing I did was to use my mistakes to educate patients. I instructed them and their families on how they could participate in their health care. Although the mistakes I made were relatively harmless, I knew that more serious medical errors happened. Perhaps I could show patients and families how to advocate for themselves, and reduce their chances of experiencing a medical mishap.
I’ll spare you the statistics, other than this one: Experts at Johns Hopkins state that medical errors may be the third leading cause of death. Let this sink in for a moment. Many of us are going to great lengths to stay healthy, trying to minimize our risk of heart disease and cancer. But how do you reduce your risk of getting hurt by the people you trust? It turns out, there are precautions you can take to reduce your chances of being harmed by medical errors.
Ways to Protect Yourself
- Take good care of your health. If you aren’t sick, you won’t need medical intervention. But if you do need medical help, seek it early before your problem gets big and complicated.
- Choose your health care team carefully. Get recommendations from others. Check your doctors’ credentials. Look at online ratings.
- Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, look for a new one. Your doctor should answer your questions and come across with a reasonable amount of confidence in his or her ability to care for you. Too much self-confidence, such as arrogance or condescension is not a quality that I like. However, I was okay with a bit of egotism coming from my husband’s neurosurgeon. Since God wasn’t going to be doing the surgery on my husband’s brain, it seemed fitting that someone who thought he was God would be doing the job.
- Bring someone with you to your appointments. A good advocate can hear things we don’t hear, and say things that we might not think to say.
- Read everything you can on how to stay safe. Here are some great resources:
- 20 Tips To Help Prevent Medical Errors: Patient Fact Sheet – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- How to Pick the Right Surgeon – AARP
- Choose the Best Hospital – AARP
If you want more information about the hazards of health care, I highly recommend reading ProPublica’s in depth reporting on patient safety. ProPublica provides top-notch journalism beyond the usual short bytes found on today’s web-based news sites. ProPublica’s reporting can be frightening, but it is information that we need to know.