There has been much discussion about medical errors in the news, especially since the now-infamous Johns Hopkins report that listed medical mistakes as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. was published. Until doctors, hospitals and legislators start fixing the problem and coming up with ways to hold negligent healthcare providers accountable, we need to take matters into our own hands.
That is exactly what a recent article on Fox News Health suggests – that you “become a part of your own health care team” by asking these five questions before you undergo any surgical procedure:
- What is the skill level of your surgeon, and how many of these procedures has he or she performed? You can ask these questions of the doctor yourself, but you can do online research as well. What you may not be able to find is accurate results regarding any errors committed by your doctor, though checking the National Practitioner Data Bank may yield some important information.
- Is this procedure necessary, or are there alternatives? All too often patients simply accept the doctor’s word as gospel when it comes to “necessary” surgery. You should ask your doctor to explain why, in detail, he or she wants you to undergo surgery, and if there are alternative treatments out there. If you have other options, ask your doctor to explain A) what they are, B) what risks they pose, and C) why he or she thinks surgery is the best, smartest or safest course of treatment.
- How risky is this procedure, and what complications can arise? Every surgery poses some risk. For example, almost every kind of abdominal surgery comes with the risk of bowel perforation. However, a competent surgeon would be able to anticipate that risk and, if a perforation occurs, immediately fix the problem. That being said, if your bowel is perforated and the doctor does not notice it, you could go into septic shock and die. It is important to find out what your risks are before you make any decisions.
- Is that test really necessary? A doctor wants to take a small sample of blood to see if everything’s in order, and you agree. But you are on blood thinners – a fact your doctor should know – which makes it hard for your blood to clot. That basic test now poses a risk to your health. While the majority of tests are perfectly safe under normal conditions, you should still ask your doctor why he or she wants to perform the test, and what impact it might have on your health.
- What medications are you prescribing to me, and why? Medication errors are a serious problem in this country. Before you accept any medication, make sure that it is the one you actually need, and what kinds of side effects it might cause. Ask about the dosage amount, too, before you agree to take new pills or liquids. If the healthcare provider administering the drug cannot tell you what it is, why you need it, and exactly how much you need to take, refuse the medication until you speak with your doctor or surgeon.
We must all be our own advocates. Asking questions about your care can help ease your anxiety, and it could potentially save your life.
Plaxen & Adler, P.A. is a medical malpractice law firm in Maryland. For more than 30 years, we have advocated on behalf of medical malpractice victims throughout the state. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, please call 410.505.8855 or fill out our contact form.