When Routine Medical Procedures Go Wrong

Everyone makes mistakes. When we’re lucky, our mistakes are small enough to go unnoticed and have no ramifications. Doctors and nurses, however, live in a world where the effects of their mistakes can range from inconvenient to absolutely devastating.

Medical errors can involve medication, diagnosis, surgery, lab reports, or any other aspect of our complex healthcare system. Most of the time, patients breeze through routine medical procedures as expected; but in some unfortunate cases, something goes awry and a mistake is made.

We still don’t know what exactly caused Joan Rivers to go into cardiac arrest while undergoing a procedure, but we do know that these things can happen to anyone and that skilled medical professionals are as prone to blunders as the rest of us.

The proof is in the headlines: last December in Oakland, California, a 13-year-old girl was left brain dead after a routine tonsillectomy. Last October in Maryland, a 54-year-old man suffered complications from a routine colonoscopy that took his life and left his family reeling. Just earlier this year, Law Offices of Gary Green received a $6M verdict for the plaintiff following complications during the birth of the plaintiff’s daughter.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the best way you can prevent errors is to be an active member of your healthcare team. Here are just a few tips from ahrq.gov on how you can take part in every decision regarding your treatment and get safer care:

  • Make sure that all of your doctors know about every single prescription and over-the-counter medicine, supplement, and vitamin you’re taking.
  • Make sure your doctor knows about any allergies and adverse reactions you’ve had to medicines.
  • When your doctor writes a prescription for you, make sure you can read it.
  • Ask for information about the medicine you’re prescribed in clear terms that you can understand: what’s it for; when you take it and for how long; what the side effects are; if it may interact with other medicines you’re taking; if there are any foods, drinks, or activities you should avoid while on the medicine, etc.
  • If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon agree on exactly what will be done.
  • If you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need. Research shows results are better when patients are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.
  • Make sure that all of your doctors have your important health information.
  • Ask a family member or friend to go to appointments with you.
  • If you have a test, do not assume that no news is good news. Ask how and when you will get the results.
  • And most importantly: speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.

Source: ahrq.gov (Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality)