A Patient’s Role in Preventing Medical Malpractice

In today’s world of health care, there are so many things that can go wrong. Unfortunately, we hear so much more about legal recourse than how to prevent medical errors. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Although physicians owe us a duty of reasonable care in their treatment, as patients, taking an active role in our own medical care can prevent costly medical errors. When a patient takes an active role in their medical care through frank and honest conversations with their physician, both the doctor and the patient are rewarded with more confidence that the patient is not only receiving an accurate diagnosis, but also developing a good strategy to improve the patient’s long-term health and medical goals.

Patient-centered care saves money and becomes a building block for both the patient and physician. The health care reform law estimates that by 2015, there will be 15,000 new primary care physicians and roughly 40 million newly insured people. Patients who stay informed and active in their own care will fare better than patients who rely solely on the medical expertise of their physicians.

Do not be afraid to search for a differential diagnosis with your doctor. One way to do this is to simply ask your doctor “What else could this be?” Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion on your condition. If you have a complicated medical condition, seeking the advice of a specialist in addition to your primary care physician can only provide you with additional information regarding your condition. Ask about possible diagnostic testing which could confirm your diagnosis. Know what your long-term prognosis is, both with treatment and without. Ask your doctor about any new medications and how long it takes the medications to work. Be sure to let your physician know of any vitamins, natural medicine or over-the-counter drugs you may be taking in order to prevent interactions with other medications.

Remember that the medical history you provide to your physician is crucial in making correct medical decisions for your own care. Prescriptions, in particular, should be reviewed with your physician at every appointment in order to analyze whether medications may be causing side effects, masked as other medical conditions. Ask your physician how your health is overall and make notes prior and subsequent to your appointments in order to keep the physician informed. Ask what you can do to not only prevent your condition from becoming worse, but also to improve your overall health.

If your physician recommends surgery, be sure to ask what the benefits, risks and potential recovery options are. Ask your physician if lifestyle changes or other natural remedies would improve your condition. Find out if your condition is temporary or permanent, and what treatment you may expect to undergo in the future as a result of your condition. Through communication and actively asking the right questions of your physician, you can help prevent medical errors which are not only costly to you, but could affect your overall future health.