This may be the most important question you should be asking regarding medical malpractice.  Unfortunately, if you are reading this, it may already be too late to prevent harm already caused by medical negligence but it might be helpful moving forward.

If you or a loved one are about to get treatment in a hospital, it is important that you understand the risks and the necessary precautions to protect against what can safely be called an epidemic in preventable medical errors.

There are numerous hospital survival guides out there.  There are also guides on how to protect yourself more generally from medical negligence.  You should review these before you get treatment.  The precautions below are only a start.  There are many others that may be appropriate in your situation.

Estimated 400,000+ Deaths Per Year by Preventable Medical Error

For a little background on why these measures are necessary, you should know the statistics on medical error.  As of 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that up to 98,000 patients die each year as a result of preventable medical error.  Exponentially more suffer serious injury.

These 1999 numbers now sound quaint.   The estimates have grown each year since as this 1999 study resulted in serious study and investigation into the matter.  As it stands currently, it is estimated that up to 440,000 patients each year die in hospitals from preventable medical error.  Viewing the trends, there seems no reason to expect the numbers to have improved nor to believe they will improve.  This is particularly true in light of constant and unrelenting attack on the rights of patients and families by insurance companies and their cronies in Washington.

Steps to Protect Yourself and Loved Ones from Medical Error

In light of these figures, there is a good chance that you too will be the victim of medical error.  The good news is that there are steps that you can take to protect yourself.  Be aware that it will not be that easy and will take a little work on your part.

1.  Do a little research on your medical provider.

You would not buy a car without doing some consumer research.  And cars are far more reliable than medical providers.

2.  If you can, bring an advocate to your appointments.

This can be very helpful for any number of reasons.  First, they can help take notes.  Secondly, if you are sick or medicated, they can help to insure that your needs are addressed and that you understand necessary actions on your part following the appointment.  Finally, they can speak up for you when necessary as you may be too sick, groggy or even intimidated by your medical provider to do so yourself.  There is indeed strength in numbers.

3.  Keep notes of all your medical conditions and symptoms.

The doctor or other medical provider should keep your medical history and should know it.   However, this is a major problem where there is a lack of communication and/or a lack of diligence on the part of the medical providers in maintaining and reviewing these records.

4.  Bring your prescriptions bottles so that your medication and dosage is reviewed and properly prescribed.

It is estimated that medication errors alone kill thousands of patients every year.  Once you receive your prescriptions, read them to make sure they are right.  Review them after you get them from the doctor, review them again with the pharmacist, and finally review the packaging once you have received it.

5.  Keep notes of all meetings with doctors and other medical providers.

It is recommended that you consider tape recording the meeting.  The reason for this is not to trap your doctor.  You do this so you do not forget what was said.  It is estimated that patients will remember 30% or less of what is said at medical appointments.

6.  Mark your surgical site.

The one might and realistically should come as a surprise. Unfortunately, it is a very real risk.  Make sure you mark your surgery site yourself.  Wrong site surgeries, surgery on the wrong organs, removal of the wrong organs and so on are far too common to ignore.

7.  Protect yourself from infections.

Infections in hospitals have reached near epidemic levels.   You need to protect yourself to the degree you can. You should not rely on the hospital or its staff to protect you.  Some recommended precautions include regular cleaning of your room and furniture, cleaning of instruments before using them on you, changing sheets every day, making sure that all medical providers and staff wash their hands when they enter the room, and other actions necessary to maintain an infection free environment.  Unfortunately, you should not have to do this but even casual observation will show you how important this is.

8. Educate yourself.

Educate yourself every step of the way beginning with research on your condition, the symptoms, appropriate medications, possible dangerous drug combinations, and so on.  Keep notes and take them with you to all appointments.  And back to precaution #1, research your doctor, medical providers and facilities.  There are some by whom you simply do not want to be treated.

NO KIDDING!

It may be alarming and it may seem just fantasy but this is no joking matter.  4400,000 deaths, millions more harmed, by preventable medical errors in hospitals alone should tell you otherwise.  This it is the reality of medical care in American hospitals.

Do not rely entirely on your doctors and other medical providers to protect you. They won’t.   You must protect yourself.