Take Control of Your Healthcare To Prevent Medical Mistakes

Take Control of Your Healthcare To Prevent Medical Mistakes

I found some information yesterday that amazed me. Researchers found that about half of U.S. malpractice payments, which is one measurement of medical errors, from 2009 involved patients seen outside of the hospital. Yes, that’s right. Right in the doctors’ offices. The other half are inpatient mistakes, mainly from surgical errors.

Invasive and high-technology diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are increasingly being performed in the outpatient setting so the researchers decided to compare the number and seriousness of adverse events in inpatient and outpatient settings, as reflected by malpractice claims. And, to the researchers surprise the numbers are pretty much the same.

In 2009, the last year of the study, there were 4,910 payments due to inpatient errors, 4,448 due to outpatient errors, and 966 involving both settings. Together, these payments were worth more than $3.3 billion. And these weren’t trivial errors — death and major injuries were the most common reason for malpractice claims.

The researchers said the most common errors were different across the two settings, with surgical mistakes dominating the claims for hospitalized patients and misdiagnosis being the biggest problem at the doctor’s office. The problem in the outpatient setting is that rigorous, effective programs for controlling the risk of errors don’t exist right now.

Misdiagnosis can be largely prevented if we TAKE CONTROL of our healthcare. You see, misdiagnosis is often the result of poor doctor-patient communication. Approximately 15% of all patients are misdiagnosed, which results in serious harm to about half of them. In Dr. Jerome Groopman’s book, “How Doctors Think”, most doctor errors are due to mistakes in their thinking. Doctors can make mistakes because of snap judgements based on the first symptom, physical finding, or lab value, or by stereotyping. Therefore, it is very important to provide your doctor with all the information she needs to make an accurate diagnosis-no holding back-and, to ask the right questions so she can focus her attention on you! Some of these questions include:

  • What is my diagnosis, and what does it mean?
  • What else could my diagnosis be?
  • Could there be more than one thing going on to explain my symptoms?
  • Is there anything in my history, physical exam, or test results that does not fit your diagnosis?
  • How serious is my diagnosis?

Additionally, patients can also help lower the chance that their doctor will make a mistake by learning about the tests and medications they get, and keeping their doctor up to speed about what’s happened between visits.

“I do hope that patients will realize that it’s important to take control of what happens in their healthcare,” one researcher said.


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