When we go to the hospital, to the doctor, or even to the dentist, we hope to leave in better conditions than when we arrived. However, it is alarming to know that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Medical errors demand more than 251,000 lives each year, more than respiratory diseases, strokes and Alzheimer’s, which indicates that patient safety does not meet quality standards.
So, what exactly are medical errors? and how can we protect ourselves as patients?
On the occasion of Patient Safety Awareness Week, we will guide you through everything you need to know about medical errors: your rights as a patient, how to protect yourself and what to do if you have been the victim of the negligence of some health professional.
Medical errors: basic principles
By definition, medical errors are inadequate, unqualified or mistaken treatment by a health professional such as a doctor, dentist, nurse or pharmacist.
These errors occur when the health professional deviates from an established “treatment pattern”. In other words, if another suitable doctor had acted in the same way, under similar circumstances, then negligence is not considered. However, if there is evidence to suggest that the treatment was not necessary or that a different outcome could have been obtained, then the health professional is to blame for the medical malpractice.
Medical errors can take several forms, such as: equivocal diagnoses, medication errors and surgical errors. A recent example of questionable behavior within the health industry that has had a profound effect on the lives of patients and even communities is the excessive prescription of opiates in emergency rooms, which has led to the addiction of this substance.
Your rights as a patient
As patients without medical knowledge, we can feel helpless when we question what our doctors tell us about the best procedure, be it exams, treatments or prescription medications.
And while most doctors are committed primarily to patient safety, it is wise to remember that you have rights as a patient and must appeal for them so that you can protect yourself from a negative impact. Like the Dallas doctor, who left three dozen patients mutilated or paralyzed after several failed surgeries.
Some of your rights as a patient are guaranteed by federal law, such as the right to obtain a copy of your medical record and the right to keep it private. Additionally, the doctor-patient interaction is required to be confidential. Physicians are restricted to disclosing confidential information without the patient’s consent or unless required by law.
In addition to the right to privacy, two of your main rights as a patient are the right to communication and informed consent.
Our health is the most important thing we have. To protect ourselves from medical errors, we must be proactive and protective of our medical care and well-being.
Right to communication
Also known as the right to full disclosure, the law requires honest and open communication between doctors and patients. Patients have the right to know their medical situation, both current and past, so they do not have a wrong assumption of their health. If a patient suffers serious difficulties as a result of some error or medical diagnosis, the doctor is ethically obligated to inform all important factors and ensure that the patient understands what happened. Full disclosure is extremely important so that the patient is able to make decisions about their future medical care.
Right to informed consent
In the same way, as a patient, you have the right to informed consent. This means that, if you need a treatment, your health professional is obliged to provide you with all the necessary information, so that you can make a decision. Likewise, the professional must guide him through what he intends to do, the nature and purpose of the treatment, whether this is a simple procedure or a major surgery, in addition to the desired and anticipated effect, as well as any possible side effect and risk. involved. The health professional should also offer you reasonable alternatives with their pros and cons.
To comply with an informed consent, the doctor must ensure that the patient is competent and understands all of their options. People with disabilities, children, elderly patients or someone who is not trained to make decisions, in the case of any medical dilemma, must have their corresponding representation.
Many states have additional laws to protect patients and some health centers have their own bill of rights. There are also other avenues of support: the ombudsman of your state, the health department, or the ombudsman’s office according to the assigned hospital.
You also have the right to refuse treatment or change your doctor. The most important thing is to understand that when it comes to your health, you have the right to ask the questions you think appropriate.
How can I protect myself from medical errors?
Our health is the most important thing we have. To protect ourselves from medical errors, we must be proactive about our health and be the advocates of our well-being.
First of all, go to a qualified and certified doctor. Depending on the region you live in, you should have access to your doctor’s online history. You can find this information on the website of the Federation of State Council of Physicians, or through the health department of your state.
Do your own research so that you understand any health problems you are facing. Document your symptoms and write any questions you have. When you see your doctor, you should not only wait, but you should also demand consistent and complete answers.
Although it can be intimidating, you must state if you perceive that there is something wrong and be honest about it. Talk to your health provider and explain what is bothering you. It is crucial to trust your doctor or nurse, but it is also important to be insightful and to use common sense. The health professional must earn their trust and it is okay not to feel at ease with someone who does not answer your questions, or does not give you the proper time or attention.
Each time a visit to where the doctor ends up with an alleged treatment, there are five questions you should ask your medical professional:
- Is the test or procedure totally necessary?
- What are the risks and secondary effects?
- Are there other options that are simpler and safer?
- What happens if I choose not to continue with the test or procedure?
- How much does it cost and if the insurance covers it?
Consumer Reports, created cards with these questions which you can print, store in your wallet and take them each time you visit your doctor.
Remember that you always have the option to request a second medical opinion. If you feel uncomfortable or with little confidence about your medical professional, do not hesitate to seek another doctor.
What is the Agrarian Reform?
The rumor that claims for medical errors are frivolous has been circulating recently. Some argue that claims for medical errors, called “grievance reform,” reduce costs and improve medical care. In addition, these doctors and legislators argue that the increase in demands for medical errors, has generated the deterioration of medical care, as doctors, for fear of legal action against, feel intimidated in their work.
Many states have adopted tort reform, limiting the amount of money that affected patients can recover. There is even a bill in Congress, which aims to impose time limits on victims who handle claims for medical errors and restrict non-economic damages to $ 250,000.
In reality, not only is the number of claims for medical errors decreasing, but also the reform of grievances creates greater responsibility in the health system.
The considerable limitations imposed as part of the reform of grievances, in the states of Texas and Wisconsin, often hurt patients who are seriously injured and have a lifelong medical dependence, which makes them unable to work. Instead of getting justice in court, these people have to rely on health insurance and in many cases, Medicare or Medicaid, to pay their medical bills. The nation and its taxpayers end up paying for the mistake committed by guilty individuals.