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Helping Your Physician to Do No Harm


There is an old saying that if you have your health you have everything.  Anyone who has ever suffered a debilitating injury or lost a loved one to injury or disease knows this reality all too well.  We are also told by medical experts that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  We are told to exercise, eat right, see a doctor for regular check-ups and indulge ourselves in life’s pleasures with moderation.

Regardless of our efforts to prevent injury and disease, inevitably we will require the services of a medical professional.  What is often overlooked is the important role of the patient in making sure the medical professional renders the very best of care.  This role is more important than we think.  For example, a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine estimates that up to 98,000 people die in hospitals each year due to medical errors.  .  This exceeds the deaths from motor vehicle crashes, breast cancer and AIDS.

There was an excellent article on the CNN Health website advising patients to be proactive during a hospital stay to ensure that the very best care is received. The article suggests the following:

1.    Bring a list of the medications you are taking;
2.    Make sure the hospital gets your name right;
3.    Ask about every medication they give you;
4.    Make sure everyone washes their hands;
5.    If you think something’s wrong, don’t back down;

This is sage advice.  Many times, people admitted to a hospital feel helpless and confused and are hesitant to speak up when interacting with nurses and doctors.  We live in a culture that has for many years accepted the notion that what doctors say and do is not to be questioned.

Doctors are well regarded in our society, and for good reason. But let’s face it, no one knows your body and medical history like you do.  That is why it is very important to speak up when interacting with your medical providers.  One of the things that we see in our law practice is the failure of hospitals to properly document a patient’s medical history, which becomes very important in correlating medical events, management, lab & X-ray findings, etc. Like bad gossip, once a patient’s information is inaccurately recorded it ends up being passed on in that erroneous fashion, oftentimes taking on new twists and misinformation in the process. Fueling this problem is the transfer of data into computerized medical databases by non-medical personnel, like technicians and even I.T. staff, who are asked to take written patient questionnaires and type them into computer record systems. Thus, a good practice is to always ask to see what was recorded as your medical history in your medical chart before you leave a medical provider.

Even if a doctor or nurse responds defensively to questions or directions, a few awkward moments in a hospital room is a small price to pay for making sure you receive the very best of care.  The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, has embarked on an initiative to increase patient awareness and give patients more control over their medical care.  This initiative is called “Speak Up”.

The Joint Commission’s website provides excellent brochures in both English and Spanish that you can download free of charge. We encourage everyone, particularly patients, parents and caregivers to review these important materials. It just might end up saving your life or the life of someone you love.

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