We often look at doctors and health care professionals as the ultimate experts, and in most cases, they are. Doctors and nurses are educated and experienced, but that doesn’t change the reality that they’re human and fallible.
Medical errors are common in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. A recent study suggests as many as 440,000 deaths each year are caused by medical errors. Medical errors, according to Johns Hopkins, are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
A study of hospital admissions in New York found errors lead to preventable adverse events in 58% of reviewed cases.
Some of the most common errors include wrong diagnoses, which can lead to the wrong treatment or delayed treatment, as well as medication errors. Surgical errors are the second most common type behind diagnostic errors. Failures to order certain tests, anesthesia errors, and errors during labor and delivery are also common.
While some error is always going to happen in an uncertain and fast-paced environment, when you learn to advocate for yourself, then you can reduce the risk of being the victim of medical errors.
You can advocate for yourself not only if you’re in the emergency room or hospital but also when you’re receiving routine care. You know yourself, your health and how you feel better than a doctor who doesn’t know you well.
The following are some ways that you can learn to advocate for yourself.
Use Patient Portals
One of the most important and empowering things you can do for your health is to take advantage of the patient portals that are available. All hospitals and medical offices should offer access to a patient portal, although you may need to ask them to create your account.
With a patient portal, you have access to essentially everything your doctor does as far as your test results, labs, scans, and biopsies.
While you don’t want to let this create anxiety for you, you can use it to inform your own research and know what questions to ask. You may even spot things that your doctor doesn’t.
You have to think that your doctor is looking at the workups and results for potentially hundreds of patients, so they may not see everything that you would spot for yourself.
Advocating For Yourself at the ER
The emergency room is notoriously busy and often understaffed, which means this is where you can run into the highest likelihood of a medical error occurring.
If you go to the ER for any reason, having a friend or family member come with you is a good way to advocate for yourself. They can help you, think about things you might not, and seek help if it’s needed.
Bring a list of your current health conditions and your medicines because these are things that ER care providers can use to quickly start narrowing down what the issue might be.
When you’re in the ER, you need to be succinct in how you describe your symptoms and don’t exaggerate. It’s not going to help make you a priority or help you get better care. In fact, it may do the opposite.
It can be hard, sometimes more so for women, to be assertive in medical situations. The result is the potential for errors and missed diagnoses. It’s not going to offend your care provider if you’re assertive, and if it does, you might need to consider seeing someone else.
Your medical care and health are the most important things, so if someone is belittling you or being rude to you because you’re speaking up or asking questions, they are not the right care provider.
If you believe that your doctor isn’t doing the right tests or considering the right conditions, say so. They might not have thought of it.
If you think that a medicine or treatment isn’t right for you, again, say that.
Listen To Your Body and Your Instincts
When it comes to health care, since doctors are the experts, there’s a tendency that we may all have to ignore ourselves. You may have a gut feeling something isn’t right or your body might be telling you something is going, but you could start to doubt yourself.
Don’t do that. There’s a reason you’re feeling this way, so it needs to be something that’s properly investigated.
Being Your Own Advocate Doesn’t Mean That You Believe Everything Online
Doing online research is an important part of taking care of your health, but first, make sure you’re only using reputable research such as what’s in medical journals. You might also explore the treatment options available for your condition with your own research.
However, don’t assume that everything you read is true or relevant to your case.
Everyone is different so just because you see something online, it doesn’t mean that’s going to hold true for you.
Know When It’s Time to Find a New Doctor
This was briefly mentioned above, but sometimes, the most important thing you can do to advocate for your health and well-being is knowing when it’s time to find a new care provider. If you feel like you aren’t being listened to or heard, your doctor isn’t treating you with respect, or they’re overlooking something important, you should find someone else.
Not all doctors are inherently good at what they do, or they might be a good doctor but just not a good fit for you.
You could be amazed by how different things become in your health care when you’re working with the right doctor.
Finally, if something’s unclear or you don’t understand it, then you should ask. Always ask, and if you need to ask more than once that’s okay. Take notes and double-check all instructions before your appointment ends because it can be tough to get in touch with your doctor after the fact.
When you advocate for yourself, you’ll likely feel both physically and mentally better and you may be able to avoid the effects of a medical error.