Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others. Brandon Mull
When we think of medical errors, we think about the mistakes which doctors and nurses make when taking care of patients. However it is not uncommon for errors to be caused by clueless patients and poorly informed care givers as well. The first conclusion most people jump to when a medical error occurs is – It was the doctor’s fault! Patients still think of themselves as being passive recipients of medical care who are at their doctor’s mercy. However, you need to take an active role in your medical treatment, and behave as an enlightened partner - after all , your doctor is not a veterinarian ! Patients can be the first line of defense against errors, and there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself. Patient safety is not just the doctor’s responsibility – it’s the patient’s as well. Patients must play an active role in preventing medical mistakes. One of the commonest mistakes patients make is that they leave everything upto their doctor. This kind of passive approach may make sense during an emergency, but is completely flawed for most elective medical treatment, and can lead to disaster if you are unlucky enough to end up in the hands of an incompetent doctor.
The empowered patient
An empowered patient assumes responsibility for managing her health, and this reduces the risk for errors. For example, she will call the clinic and make sure that she gets the results of the lab tests her doctor has ordered, rather than wait passively for the clinic to phone her! Patients today want to exercise the power of choice when it comes to deciding the medical care that is being provided and the manner in which it is provided. When patients actively participate in the treatment plan because they have crafted it in partnership with their doctor, they are much more motivated in complying with the doctor’s advice and this helps reduce the risk for slips and mistakes. An empowered patient is one who:
-You know your body better than anyone else and this makes it important for you to refer to all the resources you can lay your hands on, ranging from people to the printed word, to make an informed and critically evaluated decision.
-Know that this is a challenging journey and that you will need help to traverse this path. Support can be invaluable, so please be gracious in accepting it. Co-operate fully with the medical staff during your diagnosis and treatment processes.
- Leave no stone unturned when it comes to learning more about your illness and treatment options. Check with other patients, make observations, record symptoms, take family histories, participate in clinical research, and use the internet to become well- informed.
- Be vigilant; do not let your guard down. Medical errors can occur at the best of establishments, and you need to ensure that you don’t become the victim of those errors.
Appoints a patient advocate
-If you don’t feel confident enough about handling everything yourself, seek support from a more knowledgeable and resourceful patient-advocate, who will be able to work the system in your favor. They can easily achieve what patients and their families sometimes can’t – get prompt and safe medical care.
-Once you have made prudent choices, stand by them and you will find that you are more confident and in control
Organizes and updates her medical records
http://www.myphr.com/ from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is a comprehensive resource for anyone inserted in creating their own personal health record(PHR)
Sadly, most patients are still very passive, and are happy to leave everything upto the doctor. They are scared to ask questions, because they underestimate their ability to make sense of medical care. This can be dangerous, especially when things aren’t going well, and you need to learn to speak up by being aware and well-informed. After all, if you don’t look after yourself, then who will?
Do your homework – become an expert patient!
Before starting your research, you first need to obtain basic information about your medical
problem. What is your diagnosis? Your doctor can provide you with this, along with
explaining what alternative terms can be used to describe your condition; this helps you gainthe fundamental knowledge to begin your research. Make sure you get the spellings right-write them down! Of course, for some complex medical problems, it may not be possible to even come to a diagnosis, but such cases are rare.
You need to spend a little time thinking about exactly what kind of questions you want
answered from your online research: remember, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). The more
precise your questions, the easier it will be to find answers to them! Thus, it would be
counterproductive to look for ‘everything about diabetes’.
A more realistic query could be: ‘Is it possible for a diabetic to control his blood sugar levels
without medications?’ Or you might want to search for newer treatment options, such as
pancreatic transplants, or look for a world-renowned expert who specializes in treating
diabetic complications affecting the eye.
Doing a Google search can leave you lost and even more confused than when you started,
because you can get millions of results, many of which are outdated and unreliable! To make
sure you don’t get misled, you need to evaluate the credibility of the sites you visit. To learn
how to do this, watch the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM’s) short video on ‘Evaluating
Health Information’ at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/webeval/webeval.html
Researching your problem is not like a single path that proceeds straight from the initial
question to the final answer; it is actually more like a cycle. Initial questions lead to references
which lead to other papers, which, in turn, again, lead to more references, and more questions;
and as the process continues, you get wiser and closer to the answers.
Eventually, you will zero-in on the information that is the most valuable to you. This process
cannot usually be completed in a single day. The research cycle may even take you to a wide
range of medical databases, doctors, and medical libraries. It is helpful to pretend that that
you are the ace detective Sherlock Holmes, looking for a vital clue!
A single site will not provide you with all the information you need. Thus, while the HELP
website at http://www.healthlibrary.com will provide you with lots of information about your
illness (in easy-to-understand terms), if you want to connect with other patients and learn
from their experiences, you will need to go to online Bulletin Boards, patient blogs and
Community Forums. Stories written by other patients will help you identify the potential
danger zones and red flags, so you are better equipped to protect yourself from these hazards.
It is important to determine beforehand how much information you actually need to
make yourself comfortable with your diagnosis and treatment options. Some patients are
infovores, and need as much information as they can possibly gather! Others are happier
with less information because they prefer leaving technical minutiae upto their doctor. Some
patients prefer to hear only the good news, while others want the whole picture, including
the negative possibilities.
Form a partnership with your doctor
Again, let your doctor know what precisely your needs are. He can provide you with printed
matter or other sources of information, as well as point you towards other resources that can
help you gather whatever information you find necessary. You need to seek your doctor’s
help to make sense of the wealth of medical information available to you. He can explain to
you how the information you have unearthed applies to you as an individual.
You need to collaborate with your doctor, but to be treated as a well-informed partner, you
need to do your homework thoroughly first! Most good doctors would be happy to assist
and answer your queries, but the reality is they are often very busy. If you do your research,
you can ask them intelligent and focused questions. This saves them time, and will help you
to earn their respect as well.
Information Therapy can be Powerful Medicine, and can help you by:
- So you can do as much for yourself as you can, without being overly
dependent upon your doctor.
2. Helping you with Evidence
-Based Guidelines- So that you can ask for the right medical
treatment that you need - no more and no less.
3. Helping you with Veto Power
- So you can say No to medical care you don’t need, thus
preventing over-testing and unnecessary surgery.
You can read my book, Using Information Therapy to Put Patients First, at
An empowered patient is the CEO of her health team
Here are a few things that a well-informed, empowered patient can say:
* I feel comfortable with each of my doctors
* I believe I’m doing everything I possibly can, to be an empowered team player
* My healthcare team is supportive of my decisions to seek a second opinion when I want
to do so
* I have spoken with specialists and have conducted my own research to keep abreast of
the latest information about my disease
* I source credible websites for the information I need
* I know whom to contact if I need financial help for treatment
* I get support by connecting with other patients
* I take steps to prepare for each visit- I jot down a list of questions beforehand and bring
them with me
* I use a system to organize my health records
* I ask friends, family, or trusted coworkers to help out when necessary
Using the acronym SPEAK UP, JCAHO (the Joint Commission on Accreditation of
Healthcare Organisations, USA) has developed a set of steps that patients and their
families can follow to ensure that they have a positive health care experience.
S: Speak up if you have questions, or if you don’t understand something;
P: Pay attention to the care you are receiving, including medications and
treatments. Don’t assume anything;
E: Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the medical tests you are experiencing
and your treatment plan;
A: Ask a trusted family member or friend to advocate for you;
K: Know what medications you take and why. This is especially crucial because
medication errors are the most common health care error;
U: Use a health care organizations that has been evaluated against current quality
and safety standards;
P: Participate in all decisions about your treatment.