Patient Advocacy 2019: Safety in Healthcare
To be honest, doctors are getting paid to keep you sick. We still pay when they make a mistake. Three years ago, my daughter went through dozens and dozens of tests, including tests for cancer and HIV, to determine the cause of a baseball-sized lump in her neck. It turned out to be mono, after being tested for mono 3 times over a month! Two weeks in, and two negative mono tests later, the ENT offered to do a fine-needle aspiration, to which I not-so-politely declined (after running to the bathroom). We still footed the bill for the dozens of unneeded tests that ultimately led to the most obvious answer there was- a teenage girl not getting enough sleep having mono at age 14 (just like her mother did at the exact same age, actually).
We see this time and time again, doctors being paid, regardless of helping or hurting us, even doing nothing at all. Why are we still liable for medical bills that provide us with nothing and can even cause us harm? In fact, experts tell us that 80% of our hospital bills are wrong! How can this be? Most of the time we wouldn’t even notice. This is because we depend on our health insurance (private insurance) or Medicare (public insurance) to pay. We end up paying a smaller portion (hopefully) and try not to think about it anymore, unless we’re uninsured, and that’s another story.
Keeping Safe and Taking Active Steps in Our Care for 2019
· When seeing more than one doctor, communicate directly with medical staff AND your doctors that you are actively seeing another doctor. Make sure they are both aware of each other. Describe the diagnoses to each doctor, and how each arrived at each diagnosis- bring your diagnosis (the IMPORTANT medical records) to show your new doctor so that each is clear.
· Bring a list of medications. A list of medications to show your doctors is essential and will need to be updated EVERY time you go to each doctor. I have noticed this is important to check every single time one attends an appointment. For some reason, medication lists are almost always wrong (not updated properly).
· Ask each doctor about medication interactions between ALL medications- the ones they’re prescribing and the ones the other doctor is prescribing. No one knows everything. I have found this out the hard way. Medication errors are too common and happen 20% of the time in a hospital setting- whether its dosage, administration, etc.; sadly, we have no idea how to measure how often it happens in the typical doctor/patient interaction. Being proactive with medication can literally save your life. Ask your doctor. Read those long, scary print-outs they give you. This has saved both my life and my best friend’s. Ask the pharmacist. Read research and interactions through NIH and PubMed. Honestly, this can save your life. Sometimes, even over-the-counter medications can interact with prescriptions and cause major damage.
· Be judicious with medications. When taking more than one medication, pay attention to your side effects before starting another medication. If you’re having side effects, tell your doctor. Your doctor may not ask you about side effects; in fact, it is not their job to call in two weeks to ask about side effects. You must be a proactive patient and tell your doctor or their medical staff if you are having negative side effects. On the other hand, if you are feeling okay, then you may start another medication, if prescribed. Don’t just blindly do what your doctor(s) tell you- monitor how you are FEELING first! They don’t know how you are feeling unless you tell them. Another medication issue would be if it is actually making you WORSE instead of better, or not better at all, then your dosage may need to be adjusted.
· Experts tell us that around 20% of all diagnoses are wrong. That means 1 out of 5 times you go to your doctor, you are given the wrong diagnosis. Not really, but hypothetically speaking. In other words, it would not be surprising if you were given the wrong diagnosis at some point in your life. The wrong diagnosis could lead to the wrong treatment, the wrong prescriptions, the wrong surgery, and even death. In fact, up to 40% of all ER diagnoses are wrong! Don’t try to get an accurate diagnosis in the ER, especially at night on the weekend! It’s no secret you don’t have the top-notch staff working at those times, nor the number of staff or doctors available for emergencies. If possible, bring someone with you for nights and weekends, just in case.
· Choosing a great doctor will keep you safe. The better you are able to communicate with your doctor, the more likely you are to trust them. If you feel your doctor is respectful and is truly listening to you, then you will feel and most likely will actually BE safer. I like when the staff is courteous, happy, attentive, and calls you with results. There is something to be said about positive leadership. The doctor who treats their staff well, who provides a fulfilling environment with prompt service to customers (patients), and who actually reads your chart while speaking with you is my kind of doctor. They also look you in the eye and listen to what you are saying without rushing you. You may wait a while for them, but they are worth it because they are spending time with other patients like they are with you. Another trait I look for is the ability for them to be humble- to accept they do not know everything, to be open to new treatment options they may not have heard of (this is a great time to bring your printed information- peer-reviewed human subject clinical trials only please!), to listen to your worries, to listen to your wishes, and to not judge, but to empathize. They are out there!