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Proactive Measures You Can Take to Prevent Medical Errors

According to a study released by Johns Hopkins Medicine, fatalities stemming from medical error account for 10 percent of all deaths, making it the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Medical errors can involve medication and lab report mixups, misdiagnoses, surgical mistakes, and misuse of equipment. These errors can occur anywhere within the healthcare system, including hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies, nursing homes, outpatient surgery centers, and patients' homes. A patient can take proactive measures to help prevent miscommunication and protect themselves from being a victim of medical errors.

Although some errors stem from the complexities of the American healthcare system, some are caused by miscommunication between patients and their physicians. A study cited by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) revealed that many physicians don't provide enough information to their patients to help them make informed decisions. For this reason, patients need to be proactive in asking questions about their choices of treatment and what is needed to be done on their end to see that the treatment works as intended.

To avoid unintended side effects, it is important that patients disclose to their physicians what prescription and over-the-counter drugs they are taking, as well as dietary supplements, such as herbs and vitamins. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, patients should bring all of their medications and supplements to their doctor's visits at least once a year to keep their records up-to-date. To avoid harm, patients should inform their physicians of all adverse side effects and allergic reactions to any medications they are taking.

Patients should ask specific questions about their medication's intended use, dosage and side effects when these are prescribed to them and upon receiving them. When the physician writes out the prescription, patients should check to make sure that the name of the medication and the dosage amount are legible, as handwriting may be a contributing factor in medical error. If a patient can't read what is written on his or her prescription, the pharmacy staff may also face a similar challenge when filling it. Patients should ask for specific details about the medication doses and when it should be taken. For example, if a medicine label says "take two times daily," it means taking the dose every 12 hours or just during regular waking hours.

For surgeries, patients should choose a hospital that has a great deal of experience in that area. Patients should consider asking the hospital staff who have direct contact with them whether they have washed their hands. A study cited by AHRQ found that, when patients asked whether healthcare workers washed their hands, the staff members washed their hands more often and used more soap. There should be a mutual, clear agreement established among the patient, the doctor and the surgeon about what exactly will be done during the surgery. As patients are being discharged, they should ask their physician what treatment plan they should follow at home, including medications and asking when they can get back to performing regular activities.

At Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss, LLP, the firm recognizes that legalities surrounding medical errors can be difficult to navigate, especially while victims and their families are coping with the debilitating aftereffects of the incident. Seeking the assistance of an experienced New York personal injury attorney can be vital in ensuring that your legal rights are protected. If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical error, call (212) 571-7171 for a consultation.

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