The Wall Street Journal recently published a pretty frightening report about the number of people who lose their lives each year due to hospital/doctor/staff error. Can you guess how many people die each year because of medical error? Here’s some stats you might not want to know:
- 98,000 people die every year as the result of medical mistakes. This breaks down to 1,879 people each week or 268 people each day.
- In the U.S., surgeons operate on the wrong body part approximately 40 times each week.
- Approximately 25% of all hospitalized patients will be harmed in some way by a medical error.
- On the financial side, somewhere between 20 – 30% of all medications, tests, and procedures are not necessary.
While doctors take an oath to do no harm, some of them also adopt another code of conduct – that of overlooking the mistakes of their colleagues.
Should this information concern you? Yes. Should it scare you silly? No. Should it make you more attentive, responsible, and involved in your healthcare decisions and actions. Absolutely!!
Whether you are dealing with a serious health situation or plugging along with just routine healthcare – you need to know that YOU are responsible for your medical care. Sure, your medical staff bears responsibility, too, but you are your greatest advocate.
How do you do this? Research. Ask questions. Google is your friend! The amount of information available through a Google search is staggering – just start looking. If you aren’t comfortable looking or are unsure what to look for, enlist the help of a friend.
Do not make a decision about using a doctor or medical facility based on anything other than the physician’s qualifications, record, and willingness to listen to YOU. Just because a doctor is nice, friendly, chatty, or charming does not mean that he/she should be treating you. Recommendations are great and can carry some weight, but just because your sister, aunt, mother, grandmother, or best friend has used this doctor for years does not necessarily make him/her the right doctor for you. Do your leg work and learn as much as you can about the doctor before placing your life in his/her hands.
As the article pointed out, some people actually make decisions about healthcare based on the availability of good parking or they assume the hospital must be good because they have a helicopter! I’m not kidding. Read it for yourself. I know everyone reading this is much too smart to think make decisions like that! :)
Once you are at the hospital receiving care, the two best pieces of advice I can offer you are 1) make sure someone is there with you to watch what is being done and be your advocate when you are not in a condition to speak for yourself and 2) make sure you check and question all medications. When a bag is hung on your IV pole, you or your advocate should read the name on the bag and the name of the medication to make sure it is what you should be receiving. I would also recommend that you, or someone with you, keep a record of medications given and the times they are given – especially if you are dealing with numerous chemotherapy drugs.
Even doctors and nurses with the very best intensions make mistakes. The chemotherapy nurses in the practice where I receive treatment are as cautious and careful as anything I’ve ever seen. BUT, I or Barry still look at the bags they hang to make sure they have my name on them and are the correction medication. There’s too much at stake to not pay attention. The nurses won’t mind and will appreciate you providing an extra check and balance in the process.
Hospitals and physicians are taking action to improve care for all patients and put additional checks in place to prevent unnecessary deaths. Change takes time, though, and it requires help from all of us. The vast majority of us receive medical care from qualified doctors with proven track records of success and ethical treatment. I am so grateful there are people in the world who care about their patients, go out of their way to ensure the patient receives the very best care, and attempt to the best of their abilities to deliver exceptional health care. Unfortunately, not all are like that. It’s important that you play an active role in your healthcare. Ask questions. Research doctors and facilities. Pay attention when you are in the hospital. It’s your responsibility.
Stay safe and be smart.