To reduce medical errors, patients must be empowered

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Mar 26, 2012 in Medical Malpractice

According the Institute of Medicine, in the United States medical errors result in between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths each year. Contributing to the prevalence of medical errors, are poor communication between medical staff, shift changes and overall fatigue. Due to the high numbers of medical errors, many patients are taking it upon themselves to ensure their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

At a recent Patient Safety Awareness Day summit, several health advocates discussed ways patients can help minimize occurrences and often severe consequences of medical errors. One woman, whose 15-year-old son died as a result of a medical error, spoke about the importance of knowing the credentials of the medical personnel caring for you or a loved one.

In the hospital for an elective heart surgery, her son died tragically because the medical staff did not respond with urgency when the boy began losing blood. She believes her son's life could have been saved had she known how to move her concerns up the chain of command.

Other health advocates provided helpful tips such as asking doctors how necessary a procedure is and as well as how many times they've performed the procedure. Advocates also said it's important for patients to be informed, stressing the importance of having access to your medical records and keeping a journal listing any current medications as well as past procedures and complications.

The overall cleanliness of a hospital should also be a concern for patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite that roughly one in 20 patients contract a secondary infection during their hospital stay. Patients are urged to wipe down objects in a room that may not be thoroughly cleaned such as remote controls and bed rails. Likewise, patients shouldn't hesitate to ask doctors and nurses to wash their hands.

In this day and age, patients need to take a more active and aggressive role in their overall health. If hospitalized, a patient should never assume a doctor or nurse knows their medical history. Patients should also feel empowered to ask questions related to a medical professional's experience and training. Empowered patients can ultimately help cut down on medical errors and save lives.

Source: The Connecticut News Project, "A patient survival guide, from a mother who learned too late," Arielle Levin Becker, Mar. 8, 2012

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