How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Medical Errors


  1. If possible, avoid using the hospital emergency room for routine medical treatment.  Using the hospital emergency room physician for routine medical care will mean that you will be treated by a doctor who is not familiar with your medical history, possibly resulting in medical mistakes.  If you do not have health insurance, check with your county hospital or other local hospitals to see if you can visit their clinic.  Many hospitals have very inexpensive health-care plans (usable only in that hospital) for people who cannot afford health insurance.

  2. If your doctor is recommending surgery or a course of treatment, obtain a second opinion from a specialist.  If the first doctor recommending surgery is not a specialist, you should obtain a third opinion from a second specialist.  Make sure that all doctors explain to you what the benefits are and what the risks are.

  3. Make sure that a specialist does your surgery and that your surgeon routinely performs the type of surgery which you need (I even use specialists for dental work). 

  4. If you are having surgery, make sure that you fully understand exactly what will be done and that both your doctor and surgeon agree with your understanding.  Do not be afraid to ask questions, even ones you think are silly.  This is your right!

  5. If you will be given general anesthesia for a surgical procedure, use a magic marker to draw a large circle or mark around the area to be operated on.

  6. When having surgery, ask a family member or close friend to be there with you and to be your advocate.

  7. People are familiar with the fact that most doctors specialize, but many hospitals are known for one or more specialties.  If possible, choose a hospital that does a lot of the type of procedure you need.

  8. Make sure that you tell all of your doctors about everything you are taking including prescription medicine, over-the-counter medications and supplements such as vitamins and herbs (some supplements can cause excessive bleeding after surgery).  Suggestion: make a written list of all of these items and give a copy to each doctor.

  9. Make sure to tell you doctors about any allergies and adverse reactions to medications.  Suggestion: add these to your list.

  10. Make sure that you personally can read any prescription you are given.  Even pharmacists can misread a poorly written prescription and you should double check what the pharmacist is giving you.

  11. Be sure that both your doctor and pharmacist makes you familiar with all side effects of medication you are prescribed.  Be sure to report all side effects you experience, to your doctor and pharmacist immediately.  For instance, if you experience muscle weakness while taking cholesterol reducing medication, tell your doctor immediately because this side effect can become serious.

  12. Have the pharmacist orally review the written instructions on the label.

  13. If you have a test, make sure that both you and your doctor receive and read the results.  If the test is important, such as one indicating the existence or absence of cancer, consider getting a second test.