It’s an unfortunate truth that doctors make mistakes. Medical errors are one of the leading causes of injury and illness in America. Although good estimates are hard to come by, some data shows that up 100,000 people die each year due to errors made by medical personnel.
Of course, this is no reason to avoid seeing your doctor when necessary. With some simple tips you can minimize your risk of being the victim of a mistake. The number one key to protecting yourself is to establish an open and effective line of communication with your health care team. Always remember that in medicine today, everything is done as a team, of which you the patient are the ultimate boss.
Be sure your doctor and the doctor’s staff is up to date with your current medications and other health issues. It is very important that your doctor know every medication you are taking. This includes prescription medication as well as anything you buy on your own (over the counter). Be sure to mention vitamins, mineral supplements and any herbal or natural medications you are taking. This last point is especially important as many patients think their doctor doesn’t need to know about herbal medications when they can often have significant interactions with medications your doctor may prescribe for you.
Ideally you should inform your doctor not only about what you are taking, but also dosage and frequency. For example, if you take Motrin, you should also note that you take 800mg three times a day (or whatever the details may be). If you can bring your medication bottles to your office visits, that can be a big help. If that’s not possible, try to write everything down before you see your doctor in order to keep you from forgetting something in the office.
Because you have a limited time for your visit, it is important to prioritize your visit. Pick one primary issue and focus on that. Of course, you may have related symptoms and the one issue could be quite large, but if you allow the focus of the visit to become scattered, you will not be able to get any of your issues addressed effectively and it’s likely you will leave very disappointed in the results.
Coming to a visit with a long list of completely different issues isn’t going to accomplish anything effective. When you meet with the nurse at the beginning of your visit, be very concise and clear with what you are trying to accomplish with this visit. That’s not to say that you can’t have more than one issue to address, but you must choose what you are going to make the highest priority and accept that you may not get to the second or third problem. Those issues may have to be dealt with at a second visit.
Also important is to try not to bring up a new issue at the last second as you are walking out of the visit. You’d be surprised at how often something like this happens, and it rarely results in a good outcome for either the patient or the doctor. “Oh, and one more thing…” is not likely to get the attention you may need. Think ahead and present your issue early in the visit.
The last key element of a successful office visit is to ask questions. Do NOT let the doctor talk past you and zoom through complicated issues that you may not fully understand. Do not be afraid to say you need more information, or that you need the information repeated to you in a different way. Doctors will assume you understand what they told you if you just nod your head and smile. Speak up! No question is too trivial or simplistic. Many mistakes and misunderstandings are caused when a doctor thinks the patient understands a set of instructions, but really does not.
Along a similar line, if you are confused about any instructions given to you by the doctor, ask for them to be written down. This is especially important with medication, but it can apply to many other areas as well. Care plans can rapidly become quite complicated, even for health care professionals. If you feel as if you will have a problem with everything you are being asked to do, SPEAK UP and ask to have it written down. It’s in your best interest to get things right!
Always remember that healthcare is a team effort. You must work closely with your doctors and nurses to achieve the best possible results. Good communication is key in preventing errors and making sure you are getting the best possible care.