Preventing Medical Errors: How You Can Protect Yourself


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death and injury in America. The Institute of Medicine estimates that about 44,000 to 98,000 people die annually in U.S. hospitals because of medical errors, many of which are preventable.

Medical errors are adverse events that cause unintended negative outcomes for patients, such as when the wrong treatment is administered. Medical errors can occur at many treatment points, including:

  • Diagnosis
  • Lab work
  • Surgery
  • Medication
  • Inpatient and Outpatient care

Medical errors range in severity, from drawing too little blood to performing surgery on the wrong body part. Ideally, patients shouldn’t have to worry about medical errors when entrusting their care to medical professionals. With the high rate of errors and potential for serious consequences, however, patients should take steps to minimize their risk.

Patients can help prevent medical errors from happening to them by following these tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:

  • Ask factual questions about your medicine – What is it for? What does it do? How long and when are you supposed to take it? What are its possible side effects and when do they become a concern? Should any activities be restricted while on the medicine?
  • Choose doctors, clinics and hospitals with experience in the medical care you need.
  • Get specific, written instructions about any at-home treatment plans.
  • If you are having surgery, mark the body part that should be operated on yourself.
  • Do not assume every medical-care provider is apprised of your situation and do not be afraid to ask questions.
  • Do not think that no news is good news – ask about your laboratory and test results as well as what they mean.
  • Learn about your treatment or condition from reliable resources.

Source: 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors

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