In September 2013, FierceHealthcare reported on a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety which estimated that medical errors lead to the death of 210,000-400,000 patients every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this estimate makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease and cancer.

Medical errors can occur in any type of health care setting – hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, pharmacies – and even in patients’ homes. Errors may be related to medicines, surgery, diagnosis, lab equipment, or lab reports. However, patients can take certain measures and precautions to protect themselves from medical errors. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) offers patients the following tips to help prevent medical errors and ensure safe care:

Medical Errors

Participate in your health care decision making process which would involve things like your medicines, hospital stay, and surgery. This will not only ensure the best results but also contribute to your safety.

  • Medicines: Take all of your medicines – prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements – along with you on your doctor visit. Keeping your physician informed about your medication is necessary for quality care. You should also tell your doctor about any adverse reactions to medicines and allergies so that you are not given the ‘wrong’ medicine. It’s important that you know:
    • what the medicine is for
    • for how long you have to take it
    • if there are side effects (ask for written information) and how to handle them
    • if the medicine can be safely taken with your other medicines and supplements
    • whether there is anything you should avoid while taking the medicine

Make sure you can read and understand your doctor’s prescription and that the handwriting is legible so that you are given the right medicine at the pharmacy. Understand the instructions on use given on the label and ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your liquid medicine.

  • Hospital Stays: Prevent hospital-acquired infections. So consider asking hospital workers who touch you whether they have washed their hands. Before you are discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor for instructions on your treatment plan at home, including medicines and follow-up care, and when you can resume normal activities. This will help prevent hospital revisits.
  • Surgery: Choose a hospital and doctor with good experience in the type of surgery you need. Make sure you are well informed about what exactly will be done to prevent errors like wrong-site surgery.

Ask questions about your care. It’s important that someone such as your primary care physician coordinates your care if you have many health problems or are in the hospital. Make sure that all the doctors involved with your care have your medical information. Have someone accompany you on your hospital appointments. Make sure you are given only treatment you really need. Ask how and when you will get your test results. Learn about your condition and treatment from your doctor and other reliable sources.

Remember that proper communication between doctors and patients helps prevent medical errors. So staying informed and communicating well with your health care providers can ensure a safer hospital experience.