Every day, attorney John Mininno encounters at least one case of medical malpractice that could have been avoided by greater patient involvement. With medical errors at an all-time high, patient advocacy has come to the forefront of national concern. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has even dedicated the first week of March to national patient safety and awareness in hopes of curbing this trend. In response to these growing concerns, Mininno offers five practical tips to avoid becoming the victim of medical malpractice.
1. Actually read the consent form and ask questions: Fighting the temptation to skim the consent form and get on with the show? Think again. “A safe patient is an informed patient,’ says Mininno. Although medical forms can be overwhelming, Mininno encourages patients to get involved in the process. “Find out exactly who will be performing the surgery, what are the risks or possible side effects and if there are any alternative treatments. More importantly, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor how many times he or she has actually performed the surgery that you are about to undergo.’ If you are not satisfied with the answers you receive, Mininno suggests postponing the procedure until you find a doctor who can answers these questions.
2. Do not assume your doctor has a crystal ball: By providing a very clear and detailed medical history, you will avoid becoming the victim of inappropriate medical treatment. “Prior medical conditions can affect your doctor’s choice of treatment. This is especially true in an emergency room setting where you do not have a relationship with the particular doctor treating you,’ says Mininno. This is also true regarding primary care physicians who see hundreds of patients on a daily basis. “Don’t assume your doctor remembers everything about you and your medical history. It’s just not possible.’ To ensure you are prescribed the appropriate medication and given the right treatment, Mininno suggests compiling a list of your current medications and their doses (including over the counter drugs and vitamins). “Having a list prepared ahead of time ensures that you will not forget to tell the doctor something that could be a key to your treatment options.’
Check (and double check) all prescription labels: Whether it’s a pharmacist that can’t read the doctor’s handwriting or a misplaced decimal point, statistics show that millions of patients each year are affected by simple medication errors that can easily be avoided. Mininno insists that increased awareness can solve this problem. “While the doctor is writing the script, ask exactly what you are being prescribed and what dose will you be taking. Then when you get to the pharmacy, make sure the label matches what you have been told.’ Mininno also advises that you become familiar with the section of the label that describes what the pill should actually look like. “If you don’t feel that the pill you have in the bottle matches the label, call your pharmacist immediately.’
3. Physically mark the site of your surgery: Although this suggestion sounds silly, doctors are actually supposed to mark with a pen the site you will be operated on. “Unfortunately, many doctors ignore this rule and patients end up losing the wrong limb or getting a totally different surgery than what they signed up for,’ says Mininno. Instead, Mininno strongly urges that you take matters into your own hands and physically designate with a pen or a marker the site of your operation and the intended location of the incision.
4. Honesty is the best policy. Mininno encourages patients to remember that doctors are there to help you, not judge you. Therefore, he insists that it’s important to be open and honest with your doctor in every situation. “Sometimes patients are embarrassed to tell their doctor if they are taking medications not prescribed to them or if they have a substance abuse problem. Or it could be as simple as failing to tell your doctor that you never went on that diet program from the previous month.’ Either way, Mininno states that you are setting yourself up for a problem. “If your doctor can not assess the true nature of the situation, you may be prescribed a deadly medication combination or be given treatment for the wrong issue.
Attorney John R. Mininno, Esq