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Prevent Medical Errors


What Are Medical Errors?

Medical errors are mistakes in health care that could have been prevented. They can occur in hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, doctors' offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and your home. Errors can involve medicines, surgery, diagnosis, home treatment, equipment, or lab reports. They are often caused by a lack of good communication. Medical errors may result in injury or death.

Some examples of medical errors are:

  • Having surgery done on the wrong area of the body.
  • Getting the wrong meal while in the hospital, such as a regular meal when you need a salt-free meal.
  • Getting the wrong medicine or the wrong dose of medicine.
  • Getting a diagnosis or lab test that is not correct.
  • Not knowing what doctor instructions mean and doing the wrong thing.
  • Having a piece of medical equipment fail or not work the right way.

What You Can Do to Prevent Medical Errors

The best thing you can do to prevent medical errors is to be involved in your health care. Learn and know about your health problem, medicine, and treatment as best you can and take part in making all decisions about your care. Talk to everyone who is involved in your health care. This includes your doctors, other health professionals, family, and friends.

Before you agree to a medicine, treatment plan, surgery, or lifestyle change, such as changing what you eat, be sure you understand it. Always ask if you are not clear on what, how, or why.

The following steps can help you prevent medical errors:

  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care. This is easier if you have a doctor you feel comfortable with.
  • Make sure that someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care. This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in a hospital.
  • Make sure that all health professionals involved in your care have health information about you. Don't assume that everyone knows everything they need to know.
  • Ask a family member or friend to be there for you. Take someone along with you to a doctor's visit or to the hospital. Make sure this person will speak up for you and get things done if you're not able to help yourself. Even if you don't need help now, you might need it later. Make sure this person knows your wishes for your care.
  • Know that "more" is not always "better." Find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You might be better off without it.
  • If you have a test, don't assume that no news is good news. Ask when and how you will get the results of tests or procedures. If you don't get them when you expect to, don't assume that the results are fine. Call your doctor and ask for the results and what they mean for your health and treatment.
  • Learn about your condition and treatment. Ask your doctors if your treatment is based on the latest evidence. You can find treatment recommendations based on the latest evidence at www.guideline.gov. Other good places to learn about your condition and treatment include your local library, respected Web sites, and support groups.

There are places you can check to see how your health care is rated. Here are a few of them:

  • Hospital Compare, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov
  • The Joint Commission: www.qualitycheck.org
  • Consumer Health Ratings: www.consumerhealthratings.com
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eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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