Every year, the vast of majority of Americans will have some form of contact with a healthcare professional. The Centers for Disease Control puts that percentage at around 83 percent for adults and 92 percent for children.
We depend on doctors and nurses at a very basic level, and when we visit these healthcare professionals, we are putting faith in their competency and ability to adequately treat us for our injuries and illnesses. The fact that healthcare is such a fundamental component of our lives makes the recent Johns Hopkins Medicine report all the more troubling.
According to their research, medical errors result in over 250,000 deaths in the United States every year. That puts medical error as the third leading cause of death in our country, a deeply unsettling statistic that threatens to undermine the confidence patients have in their doctor’s ability to provide competent healthcare.
Doctors are experiencing heavier workloads than they have in the past, meaning that many physicians have less time to spend on individual patients. Many hospitals ask doctors to see an unreasonably high number of patients, and the result is not in the best interest of those who are sick.
Many patients are rightfully concerned that they might not be getting adequate treatment when they visit their doctor’s office. Our health depends on the ability of medical professionals to provide us with skilled, competent care. For this reason, being able to spot medical malpractice on your next visit to the doctor, hospital or medical facility might help you determine how to avoid being the victim of a doctor’s mistakes.
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other healthcare professional doesn’t provide adequate treatment and/or doesn’t provide what would be considered reasonable care by a professional’s standard. This can include, but is not limited to, giving patients the wrong medication, ignoring signs of an illness or taking the wrong course of action during a surgery.
If your doctors and nurses don’t spend enough time with you, then they might miss something important, make diagnostic mistakes, prescribe the wrong medication or fail to listen to important information that you can provide about your condition. More Americans now have health insurance, and while that is certainly a good thing, it is also putting a strain on the healthcare workforce. If your doctor fails to pay attention during your visit or if you feel as though you have not been given appropriate medical care due to time constraints, it could be a sign that the facility is not providing you with the treatment you deserve.
When a doctor’s office seems overfilled with patients or if doctors and nurses seem to be rushing patients in and out of the door in a hurried manner, it can be a good indicator that the office is understaffed and overworked. Doctors’ offices that are struggling to meet the demands of a high number of patients can be more likely to provide less than adequate treatment and more likely to make critical errors.
Unnecessary Tests and Treatment
We all want our doctors to be thorough and to err on the side of caution, but around one-fifth of doctors surveyed in a study reported that they ordered unnecessary tests because they lacked enough time to spend with their patients. While ordering frivolous tests will likely not cause you direct harm, it can be a warning sign that a physician is overworked, especially if the tests ordered do not seem to reflect or address your medical condition.
Unnecessary or inadequate treatment might also be a sign that a medical facility should be suspected for malpractice. Some forms of wrongful treatment might actually deteriorate a health condition or, at the very least, allow the true illness or injury to worsen. If the treatment administered by your medical professional doesn’t actually address or seem relevant to your condition, it can be an indicator of medical malpractice.
Lack of Transparency
A doctor should always be forthcoming about their diagnosis or about their motivation when ordering certain tests or procedures. If a doctor doesn’t communicate with you on these key factors, it might be a sign that they don’t have a sound basis for the tests or treatments they are administering. Communication is a key component of the doctor-patient relationship, and all patients have a right to know why they are receiving the type of care being given by medical professionals.
Second Opinions Reveal Inconsistencies
For serious medical conditions or illnesses, you should seek a second opinion from another doctor. If the second doctor that you consult finds that the initial diagnosis, tests or treatments were unfounded or inaccurate, it could be a sign that the first doctor you consulted was negligent in the treatment they provided. Keep records about the diagnoses and treatments you receive, and couple those notes with your own research.
Patients might also be well served by requesting retests or additional testing if the initial results are not in line with their conditions. If the results of a retest are inconsistent with the initial results or diagnosis, it could be an indicator that there was a mistake made somewhere in the diagnostic process.
Doctors or Hospitals Receive Poor Grades/Reviews
Just like any other business, doctors’ offices receive reviews from patients. Patient satisfaction can be an indicator of the level of care that a doctor provides. There are also many sites dedicated to helping patients find good doctors and medical facilities. Consumer Reports provides a searchable database, by state, of hospitals’ safety ratings. By searching your prospective or current medical professionals on credible sites, you might discover whether or not they are a reliable source of health care.
To avoid becoming the victim of medical malpractice, patients should strive to be as informed as possible. In addition to researching the facility that you utilize, educate yourself on any conditions that you have or that you suspect you have so that you can better engage with your doctors about your health. This will help you spot any inconsistencies in care and allow you to get the most out of your treatment.
Steven G. Wigrizer of the Philadelphia law firm, Wapner Newman Attorneys at Law, has been trying cases since 1979.