No one wants to be a victim of medical malpractice. A missed diagnosis, a wrong prescription, or a surgical error can have tragic consequences for patients and their families. Therefore, it's important to understand the risk factors when dealing with doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers.
- prepare a list of questions and bring them to your next appointment
- thoroughly review your doctor’s credentials
- know if your doctor has any stains on his record
- check if your doctor carries malpractice insurance
- make sure the doctor has substantial experience performing the procedure/treatment you will be receiving
- go to the doctor or hospital without a patient advocate
- sign any waivers or documents without truly understanding them
- withhold information from your doctor about medications you’re taking
- let the insurance company decide what doctor you see and what treatments you receive
It's easy to forget important questions when talking to a busy physician in the examination room. So write them down in advance and bring them to your appointment, along with a pencil, pen, or tablet.
An important step for patients, and one that is often overlooked is to conduct a thorough background check on your doctor. Look for a surgeon or physician who is board-certified in the right specialty. Other items to research are where your doctor went to medical school, and if they completed a residency or fellowship training. A good place to start is the American Medical Association's Doctor Finder.
Go online to your state's medical board site and make sure that your doctor holds a current license. You can also check for any disciplinary actions or malpractice lawsuits. Keep searching and you may be able to read and evaluate posted comments—good or bad—from the doctor's patients.
Most but not all doctors carry malpractice insurance. You want to know if your doctor is willing to take financial responsibility and if he is even able to qualify for insurance. This is important because the policy can provide financial compensation if you become a malpractice victim.
Do make sure the doctor has substantial experience performing the procedure/treatment you will be receiving
See how long the doctor has been in practice, and the types of cases he or she typically handles. Many surgeons, for instance, develop an expertise in certain procedures, such as knee or hip replacements—an important consideration when choosing a doctor.
Bringing someone with you to your doctor’s appointments or hospital visits can greatly reduce the chances of miscommunication. After all, you want to be sure you understand exactly what the surgery or treatment is meant to do, as well as the potential risks.
Prior to surgery or treatment, you will be asked to sign a number of papers, including giving your consent to the doctor's services. Take the time to read these documents carefully. In fact, you could ask to take them home with you and return with them in the morning. Otherwise, you could “sign away” some of your legal right.
Your medications can affect how your body responds to treatment, especially if you will be undergoing anesthesia for surgery. Even non-prescription medicines like aspirin or vitamin supplements can affect your body. Therefore, be sure to give your doctor as much information as you can in advance of treatment.
If you have a serious injury or a chronic medical condition, your insurance company may try to direct you to a particular physician. Try to resist that pressure, which may be driven by cost considerations. Seek out a physician with expertise and experience in treating your condition. As a patient, you want the best possible medical care—not the cheapest.
Most doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and other providers are competent, caring professionals who do the best they can to treat their patients. But there can be big differences in terms of their expertise and experience. Even the best professionals make mistakes from time to time. Therefore, you need to do your homework, understand the risks, and take action to avoid becoming a victim of medical malpractice.