Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Medical Errors: 20 Tips to Help
Medical errors are one of the nation's leading
causes of death and injury. A report by the Institute of Medicine estimates that
as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year as the result
of medical errors.
Government agencies, purchasers of group health
care, physicians and other health care providers are working together to make
the U.S. health care system safer.
How can I help protect
myself against medical errors?
1. The single most important way you can help to
prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team. That means
taking part in every decision about your health care. Research shows that
patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results.
2. Make sure that all of your doctors know about
everything you are taking. This includes prescription and over-the-counter
medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs. At least once a
year, bring all of your medicines and supplements with you to your doctor.
3. Make sure your doctor knows about any
allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines. This can help you
avoid getting a medicine that can harm you.
4. When your doctor writes you a prescription,
make sure you can read it. If you can't read your doctor's handwriting, your
pharmacist might not be able to either.
5. Ask for information about your medicines in
terms you can understand - both when your medicines are prescribed and when you
receive them. See the box below for a list of questions you should ask about
- What is the medicine for?
- How am I supposed to take it, and for how long?
- What side effects are likely? What do I do if
- Is this medicine safe to take with other
medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter) or dietary supplements I am
- What food, drink or activities should I avoid
while taking this medicine?
6. When you pick up your medicine from the
pharmacy, ask whether it is the medicine that your doctor prescribed. A study by
the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences found that 88
percent of medicine errors involved the wrong drug or the wrong dose.
7. If you have any questions about the
directions on your medicine labels, ask. Medicine labels can be hard to
understand. For example, ask if "four doses daily" means taking a dose every 6
hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.
8. Ask your pharmacist for the best device to
measure your liquid medicine. Also, ask questions if you're not sure how to use
it. Research shows that many people do not understand the right way to measure
liquid medicines. For example, many use household teaspoons, which often do not
hold a true teaspoon of liquid.
9. Ask for written information about the side
effects your medicine could cause. If you know what might happen, you will be
better prepared if it does - or, if something unexpected happens instead. That
way, you can report the problem right away and get help before it gets worse.
10. If you have a choice, choose a hospital at
which many patients have the procedure or surgery you need. Research shows that
patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that
have a great deal of experience with their condition.
11. If you are in a hospital, consider asking
all health care workers who have direct contact with you whether they have
washed their hands. Handwashing is an important way to prevent the spread of
infections in hospitals.
12. When you are being discharged from the
hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home.
This includes learning about your medicines and finding out when you can get
back to your regular activities. Research shows that at discharge time, doctors
think their patients understand more than they really do about what they should
or should not do when they return home.
13. If you are having surgery, make sure that
you, your doctor and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will
be done. Doing surgery at the wrong site (for example, operating on the left
knee instead of the right) is rare. But even once is too often. The good news is
that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. The American Academy of
Orthopaedic Surgeons urges surgeons to sign their initials directly on the site
to be operated on before the surgery.
14. Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.
15. Make sure that someone, such as your
personal doctor, is in charge of your care. This is especially important if you
have many health problems or are in a
16. Make sure that all health professionals
involved in your care have important health information about you. Do not assume
that everyone knows everything they need to.
17. Ask a family member or friend to be there
with you and to be your advocate (someone who can help get things done and speak
up for you if you can't). Even if you think you don't need help now, you might
need it later.
18. Know that "more" is not always better. It is
a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help
you. You could be better off without it.
19. If you have a test, don't assume that no
news is good news. Ask about the results.
20. Learn about your condition and treatments by
asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources. For example,
treatment recommendations based on the latest scientific evidence are available
from the National Guidelines Clearinghouse at http://www.guideline.gov.
Ask your doctor if your treatment is based on
the latest evidence.