A trip to the hospital may alone be traumatizing without worrying about all of the terrible things that can happen there. An epidemic of medical errors has been responsible for driving up the cost of health care, and often health care providers, including doctors and hospitals, have been more concerned with capping liability for their errors rather than curing medical malpractice.
Independent researchers have been examining the matter of medical malpractice and have universally confirmed the lack of empirical evidence that lawsuits are the problem with health care. Professor Tom Baker, of the University of Connecticut School of Law, authored a well-documented and authoritative book entitled The Medical Malpractice Myth. Other researchers have uncovered staggering statistics about preventable death, illness, and injury. For example, it is estimated that there are 195,000 preventable deaths in American hospitals each year (HealthGrades, 2004). One-third of hospital procedures may expose patients to risks without justification (Millbank Quarterly, 1998). Injuries and illnesses resulting from adverse drug events number more than 770,000 per year, at a huge cost to the involved institutions (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1997). Infection transmitted because hospital workers fail to follow proper handwashing protocols results in 20,000 patient deaths per year (Center for Disease Control, 2002).
What can patients do to protect themselves from the very people who should be protecting them?
Some of those protections are those set forth by the American Hospital Association and are summarized as follows:
1. You have the right to expect considerate and respectful care.
2. You have the right to receive from your physician necessary information to give informed consent prior to the start of any procedure or treatment, and to know the name of the person responsible for your care.
3. You are entitled to receive from your physician complete and current information regarding your diagnosis, treatment, and progress in terms that you can understand.
4. You have the right to refuse treatment to the extent permitted by law and to be informed of the medical consequences of your decision.
5. You are entitled to privacy concerning your illness and treatment. Necessary case discussions, consultations, examinations, and treatments are viewed as intimate and private and are conducted most discreetly by those involved in your care.
6. You can expect that all information pertaining to your case is treated as strictly confidential.
7. To the degree that it is humanly possible, you are entitled to reasonable responses to your requests for service.
8. You have the right to be advised if the hospital proposes to engage in or perform clinical investigations affecting your care or treatment, and you have the right to refuse to participate in such research projects.
9. You may expect reasonable continuity of care, and to be informed by your physician of your continuing healthcare requirements after leaving the hospital.
10. You are entitled to examine and receive an explanation of your bill, regardless of how it is to be paid.
11. If you are an individual who is authorized to consent to an autopsy, you will have the right to request that the autopsy be performed at another institution and by a physician unaffiliated with the treating hospital at your own expense, under Connecticut law, Public Act 01-122, an amendment to Connecticut General Statute 19a-286.
Other precautions may include:
Insist that any health care worker that is going to come in contact with you wash his/her hands in your presence and use gloves.
Before you receive any medication, ask what it is, what the dosage is, and who prescribed it.
Prior to receiving any medication or procedure, make certain that your identity is confirmed orally and by checking your wristband.
If a procedure is to be performed on one particular side of your body, use a pen to mark the proper side and verify the proper side with the health care providers before the procedure begins.
If you are being moved from one location to another location, ask where you are going and why. Also check to make certain that all tubes, catheters and other paraphernalia are either going with you or are disconnected.
Ask plenty of questions.
Don’t be reluctant to ask for a second opinion.
If you have documents such as a Living Will and/or a Designation of a Health Care Agent, make certain that copies of those documents are placed in your chart and that you keep additional copies with you.
Check your physician’s profile as maintained by the state where he/she is licensed. The information provided may tell you whether or not your physician is board-certified, has been disciplined, or has had adverse malpractice judgments or settlements. For example, for Connecticut licensed physicians and surgeons you can go to the following web site:http://www.dph.state.ct.us/MD_Profile/hlthprof.htm
For physicians and surgeons licensed in New York, you can go to the following web site: http://www.health.ny.gov/
Most healthcare facilities in the United States, including hospitals and nursing homes, are accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (“JCAHO”). The JCAHO encourages patients to become more informed and involved in their healthcare by familiarizing themselves with its SpeakUpTM program. The information provided can be found online in both English and Spanish.