Patient Safety and Medical Malpractice

When she lost her son to a form of medical malpractice known as ‘failure to rescue’ Helen Haskell realized how unprepared most patients and family members are to protect their safety in a medical setting. She believed that many instances of medical malpractice could be prevented in patients understood their rights and exercised greater control over the process. She began a group call Mothers Against Medical Error designed to advocate for patient safety laws and to help parents protect their children when medical issues arise. She teamed up with other safety advocates and medical professionals to craft a guide for people who are going through the health care system.

Many of the tips involve one thing that most patients do not understand: doctors, nurses and other health care professionals make mistakes. They make lots of mistakes. A massive report regarding medical error was compiled in 1999 and estimated that somewhere between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths are caused by medical errors every year. The medical error rate is significantly higher than for air travel and other things considered risks by many in the population. Medical errors should be considered as a distinct possibility by people who are considering elective procedures or who are going in to a hospital for any form of treatment.

For many patients, the problem lies with not wanting to seem pushy. If you are not getting the answers you need from the intern or nurse, you need to know how to move up the chain of command. You need to be willing to insist on speaking to someone higher up if a problem does not seem to be getting addressed properly. Patients are advised to track what tests are being performed, what drugs are being administered, and anything else that pertains to the care they receive. You should ask questions to make sure you understand what is being done and why. You may have to inform the next doctor and the one after that. Before any procedure begins, you should know the risks involved, as well as how many times the doctor or surgeon has handled that issue in the past. Too much information is better than too little.

Most people assume that their doctors know what they are doing. They assume that the doctor has done this 1,000 times before and that there will be no complications. That is not a realistic or safe assumption. Your doctor may be doing his or her best, but that does not guarantee that the care you receive will be up to acceptable medical standards. If you do not want to be a victim of medical negligence, prepare yourself before you set foot in a medical facility.

Source: The CT Mirror, “A patient survival guide, from a mother who learned too late,” by Arielle Levin Becker, 8 March 2012