Patient Safety: Protecting Against Medical Mistakes

Patient safety is especially important in the summer. July is the most dangerous month for patients at teaching hospitals across the country, according to a study by the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Teaching hospitals see a 10% increase in fatalities over the month of July, which is attributed to the inexperience of new medical residents who traditionally begin training in July. Many are likely caused by medical mistakes.

According to the Institute of Medicine, medical mistakes cause nearly 100,000 deaths and at least half a million injuries each year. In a federal study of hospital patients in one year, one in seven patients was harmed by medical mistakes, with effects ranging from a prolonged hospital stay to permanent injury or death. Some of the most common mistakes involve avoidable infections, incorrect drugs or drug dosage, surgical errors, and miscommunication between medical staff. Hospital-acquired infections alone affect as many as two million people per year, killing perhaps tens of thousands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Steps to Protect Against Medical Mistakes

Patients may feel powerless to protect themselves against the risk of random mistakes in medical facilities. But, patients can take a variety of preventive measures to reduce the risk of falling victim to medical error.

To protect against infection, you should research hospital infection rates. Ask if your doctor knows the hospital’s “options’ infection rate.” An options’ infection rate uses “catheter days” to measure the infection rate of a hospital. A catheter day is a 24-hour time period in which a tube is inserted into a patient’s blood vessels. The best rate is zero in 1,000 catheter days for one year or more. A patient should be concerned if the rate is three or higher.

Research doctor records and certifications on the specific procedure you need. Nobody wants to be a doctor’s first patient for a difficult operation.

Generally, avoiding operations on Friday and weekends can help decrease the odds of a mistake. Medical staff members, like other workers, are more likely to be fatigued and error-prone late on a Friday evening after a long week. Similarly, a morning slot is usually better than an afternoon appointment.

Other steps include choosing a hospital that uses electronic records, thus avoiding the risks posed by illegible hand-written communications. If possible, keep track of your own prescriptions and dosages. Incorrect medication or dosage is a leading medical error. Ask friends and family members to accompany you for moral support and as an additional safety-check.

It’s important to be assertive about your medical treatment. Medical mistakes are avoidable. When a mistake causes injury, negligence on the part of medical staff or the hospital may constitute medical malpractice. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney for legal advice on possible claims and to discuss obtaining full compensation for injuries caused by medical malpractice.

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