According to the Journal of Patient Safety, approximately 440,000 people die every year as a result of preventable medical errors. To put things into perspective, this number is higher than the number of people who die from heart disease and cancer.
That said, many people do not believe injuries caused by a doctor’s mistakes would ever happen to them—until they do.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, dentist, nurse or anyone in the medical field provides a substandard level of care, ultimately causing emotional trauma, injury or even death to the patient. The most common type of medical malpractice claim happens when a medical professional is negligent in conduct or care of a patient. Most attribute medical negligence to surgical errors or other types of procedures, but medical negligence extends beyond that.
Misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose a severe illness accounts for a large portion of medical malpractice claims. Often, the patient misses out on treatment opportunities or their conditions are made worse by doctors who are simply not paying attention to symptoms.
According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors cause harm to roughly 1.5 million U.S. patients each year. Medication errors occur when the doctor prescribes the incorrect medication or when drugs are administered to the wrong patients. However, the most common form of medication error involves incorrect dosage. This can happen when a doctor prescribes the wrong dosage, medical equipment that delivers doses malfunctions or when nurses administer the incorrect amount. Anesthesia errors are also extremely harmful and often cause permanent injury, including brain damage or death. Anesthesia errors occur when the anesthesiologist fails to brief themselves on patient history, fails to inform patient of risks, administers too much anesthesia to a patient or fails to monitor vitals.
Medical malpractice claims can also arise when medical professionals do not obtain informed consent, pressure patients into medical procedures they do not want and when medical professionals perform unnecessary procedures. These types of claims can be emotionally and physically traumatizing to patients.
How Can I Protect Myself From Medical Negligence?
The fact of the matter is medical malpractice happens frequently. However, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from medical negligence and ensure that you and your doctors are on the same team, which includes:
- Know your history and the types of medications you are taking. Always ask if there are any contraindications that can produce negative effects with the medications you are taking or conditions you may have.
- Document! Always keep notes and document what you and your doctor discuss each visit. Keep track of dates of doctor visits, any medications you’re prescribed and any procedures they recommend. It may even help to bring a recorder with you to any doctor visits. Most cell phones have built-in recorders, so it does not have to be conspicuous. Record your symptoms, too.
- Always receive a second opinion before you move forward with any medical procedure. Doing so will verify that this is not an unnecessary procedure and that the doctor is making correct diagnoses.
- Bring a family member or friend with you to checkups and procedures. This will decrease the chance of a doctor pressuring you into procedures. If your family member or friend is not allowed into the consultation room, it may be a red flag.
- Ask questions. It never hurts to be as well-informed as possible.
The effects of medical negligence can be devastating, so when faced with a procedure, it is better to err on the side of caution.