Medical errors, which we commonly call "medical malpractice," are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. That's just behind heart attacks and cancer. What should you watch for, and how can you avoid being the victim of a medical mistake?
Three common kinds of errors account for most medical malpractice cases that I see. Diagnostic errors can occur even with good care, because many conditions mimic others. It sometimes takes time and multiple tests to determine the correct diagnosis.
Yet, when doctors don't use reasonable judgment in trying to diagnose a condition, the result is malpractice, sometimes fatal malpractice. Watch the way your doctor approaches the diagnosis of your medical condition. If you aren't satisfied that the doctor's full attention is on a serious problem or that enough diagnostic tests are being done, get a second opinion fast.
Medication errors also account for a huge number of medical complications and deaths. Over or under prescribing, prescribing the wrong medication, and failing to consider drug interactions, especially in the elderly who commonly are on multiple drugs, are common errors that can lead to disastrous effects. Doctors don't get as much training in prescribing drugs as you might think, so having a conversation with your pharmacist about what has been prescribed and its dosage is one good way to double check a prescription for your safety.
And a lot of drug information, including drug interactions, is available for you to review on the internet as a second safety resource. If you are hospitalized, it's good to have a family member present to ask about the medicines being given to ensure that what you are about to get is indeed the drug that has been prescribed and in the dosage that it was prescribed.
The third large category of medical mistakes is an entire realm of surgical mistakes, a topic for another day.