Home care healthcare professional hugging senior patient

Medical malpractice is never the victim’s fault. You should be able to go to a doctor, a hospital, or other provider, and trust that you will receive care that is helpful, or at least not harmful. Unfortunately, as medical malpractice attorneys, we know that’s not always how it happens.

While you’re not to blame if you are injured by medical malpractice, there are some measures that you can take to reduce the chances of medical negligence happening to you or your loved ones. Medical error is the most underreported cause of death in the United States, and Johns Hopkins determined that over 250,000 people in this country die annually due to these errors. That number does not include those patients who survive, but whose lives may be changed forever.

All of which is to say, we would rather have you avoid experiencing malpractice than to have you need our services. Here are some tips to avoid becoming a victim of medical malpractice.

Choose Your Primary Physician Wisely

Your primary care physician (PCP) is something of a gatekeeper for your medical care, especially if your healthcare plan requires a referral from your PCP in order to see a specialist. Even if that’s not the case, though, your PCP is likely the first provider to whom you turn when you have a health concern. If they are alert, they may pick up on and test for certain issues early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. If they are dismissive, an important diagnosis could be missed until it’s too late.

We recommend working with board-certified physicians, both as your primary doctor and for any specialists you may need to consult. But in addition to checking whether your doctor is board-certified, make sure you are working with someone who listens to your concerns and responds to your questions. You should feel like an active, informed participant in your health care, not a nuisance.

Consider Hospital Affiliation

Most doctors are affiliated with hospitals, and the one you choose certainly should be. But which hospital your doctor is affiliated with matters, especially if you have certain conditions. We all want medical care that is convenient, but the hospital that is closest to your home is not necessarily the one where you will receive the best care for your needs.

Do some research: look at hospitals’ overall rankings, safety grade, and ranking for your particular medical issues. Choose doctors who have admitting privileges at the hospital where your needs would best be met.

Get Your Test Results

Many of us are told by our doctors’ offices after medical testing, “We’ll let you know if there’s a problem.” Accordingly, many of us become conditioned to assume that no news is good news. That’s often the case—but not always. Medical offices are busy places, and sometimes test results that warrant further attention get placed in a file or lost in the shuffle. You shouldn’t have to chase your test results down, but it’s best if you do.

Fortunately, this is easier to do than ever. Most medical providers provide an online medical portal through which you can message your doctor, schedule appointments, and yes, view your medical test results. If you see a result you don’t understand, or don’t see a result from a test that you had performed, contact your doctor’s office to follow up.

Pursue a Second Opinion

If your doctor’s diagnosis doesn’t quite sit right with you for any reason, or you just want to be absolutely sure that the diagnosis or treatment you have is correct, seek a second opinion. You’re not disrespecting or “cheating on” your doctor. Doctors know patients get second opinions, and many encourage it. Physicians are very smart, but they are also human. Sometimes the perspective of a second doctor can be valuable—if only to reassure you that your primary doctor is on the right track. And sometimes, a second opinion can be lifesaving.

Educate Yourself About Your Conditions

If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition, learn as much as you can about it from reputable sources. This is not so that you can tell your doctor how to treat you, but so that you will understand your doctor’s recommendations and ask relevant questions, including about treatment options. Don’t assume that if there’s something you need to know about your health, your doctor will tell you.

That applies not only to conditions you have, but conditions you could develop. For instance, if you have a family history of a disease with a genetic component, don’t wait for your doctor to recommend screening. Know your family history, remind your doctor, and ask what you should be doing to safeguard your health in light of it. Squeaky wheels get the grease, and informed patients get better care.

Have a Medical Power of Attorney in Place

A medical power of attorney, sometimes called a healthcare power of attorney or patient advocate designation, is a type of advance directive. This document, whatever name it goes by in your state, designates a person of your choosing to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make or communicate them for yourself. Your medical power of attorney or another advance directive may also include your wishes regarding certain types of treatment.

Trust Your Gut

The bottom line is that you are the expert on your own body. You know what is normal for you and what feels “off.” That’s not to say that you shouldn’t trust your doctors; if you’ve chosen the right ones, they should be your go-to for medical information. But you also shouldn’t dismiss your own instincts regarding your health.

Many of us were raised not to talk back, but it’s not disrespectful to say to your doctor, “I’m still concerned about X; can you help me understand why you don’t believe this is a problem?” Your doctor should be able to explain, in understandable terms, why they do or don’t recommend certain testing or treatment. If the only reason you accept their conclusion is because “they’re the doctor,” not because you understand their reasoning, that is a problem. If anything seems wrong, speak up.

We hope that these tips help you to receive the best possible healthcare for your needs. If you believe that your doctor has committed medical malpractice despite your efforts to receive good care, please contact The Fraser Law Firm to schedule a consultation.