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5 ways to reduce the risk of medical errors

When a person is in need of medical care, they are often functioning under an enormous burden of stress. Becoming ill or sustaining an injury is stressful in and of itself, but there are also risks associated with receiving necessary medical care. Research conducted at Johns Hopkins and published by the British Medical Journal suggests that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that more than 250,000 people lose their lives every year as a result of medical error.

Medical errors can take a number of different forms. One of the most common dangers involves patients being given medication that is intended for a different party, or receiving an improper dosage. Surgical errors are another area of concern. In some cases, deaths occur as a result of general ineptitude among medical practitioners at all levels. Combined, these issues have led to extraordinary levels of concern among patients and patient advocacy groups.

There are number of steps that patients and their families can take to reduce the risk of medical errors. The following list offers a few basic precautions to consider.

  • Have a professional coordinate your medical care. By having your primary care doctor or another professional manage the full scope of your healthcare, miscommunications and conflicting therapeutic approaches can be avoided.
  • Have a trusted friend or family member accompany you to appointments. This provides an extra level of oversight and precaution, and becomes very important if you eventually are unable to actively participate in your own medical decision-making.
  • Make a comprehensive list of all medications, and share that list with all healthcare providers. This can greatly reduce the chances of receiving medication that could cause negative interactions with your existing regimen.
  • Be aggressive in asking questions and receiving answers and explanations, when necessary. Never simply assume that "Doctor knows best" when it comes to your own healthcare. Make sure that you understand the reasoning behind all treatments, medications and surgical interventions before signing off on them.
  • Prior to surgery, make sure that there is a consensus between yourself, your primary care physician and the surgical team on exactly what area of the body is to be operated on. Insist that the surgical site is marked prior to receiving any type of anesthetic.

These tips are intended to provide an overview of some of the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of medical errors. Each and every individual has a unique set of needs when it comes to his or her medical care, and should determine the appropriate steps for their particular circumstances.

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