It might look fairly cut and dried when a mistake is made by a medical practitioner and causes the patient harm. It’s tragic for everyone involved when something like this happens. But, sometimes fault lies with the harmed patient because symptoms were not properly reported to health care professionals.
Medical procedures are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.
According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, at least 1.5 million patients are harmed every year from being given the wrong drugs — that’s an average of one person per U.S. hospital per day. Even after allowing for reasonable human error, what’s the reason for so many mistakes? This is a field with educated, intelligent, dedicated and hard-working professionals. For the most part, everyone is doing their best.
It’s because the practitioners are only part of the equation. Doctors can only treat based on what they know and misreporting of symptoms by the patient happens a lot.
We have a whole range of experiences involving our symptoms; doctors and nurses don’t; they have the symptoms we report and we report them at shockingly high rates of inaccuracy.
Here are two cases in point:
• In one instance, an elderly woman checking in at the E.R. for severe migraine symptoms and other distressful gastrointestinal symptoms, reported her pain on the classical one-to-ten scale (one = no pain; ten = maximum pain) as a “five.” Several hours later and after various effective, palliative and pain-reducing measures by the hospital, the woman was feeling well enough to be released to go home on her own. During the exit interview by the nurse, using this same pain scale, the patient reported her pain as a “six!”
• In another case, during the history intake for a massage, the client answered, ‘no,’ to the question, ‘Any recent injuries or illnesses?’ During the treatment, it was discovered that the client suffered a serious blow to the tailbone during the recent delivery of her four-month old son and this is what was causing the pain in her lower back. She reported pain without an explanation as to the cause during the intake. She was hypersensitive to even the slightest touch and still often required a donut to sit comfortably.
So, patients don’t always report properly what’s going on.
Mistakes in recording: they are your records
It also happens that symptoms don’t get recorded properly for one reason or another. Symptoms recorded improperly by nurses and practitioners are the often the basis for faulty treatment.
Patients shouldn’t be required to perform check and balance procedures, but, again, it’s your body. You can ask to review your medical records; you can request copies of your medical records.
All medical records should be examined by the patient at least once a year. Life or death decisions are made because of what is written down; mistakes happen. It’s your body. Be an active participant in your health care
Here are some tips in communicating with wellness practitioners:
- Talking to a doctor or a nurse can feel awkward and even intimidating. This is the person making decisions about your body – get involved; write down what you need to ask or say and use this note during your visit.
- We may feel that discussing concerns we have about a treatment plan or asking questions about a prescribed medication might show disrespect or lack of trust in his or her judgment. It’s important to practitioners that we understand our treatment plan.
- Sometimes time is the issue: the doctor is behind schedule or is acting rushed (hand on the doorknob as you talk). This is your time; use it.
- It’s your body and the more interest you express in being a cooperative agent in your health the greater your chances of having open lines of communication.
- Remember, the only authority your doctor has over you is the authority you allow him or her to have. Instead of being afraid of confronting authority, think of it as participating in your wellness.
- Ask about your medications; talk to your pharmacist, too. Know what this stuff is doing inside your body.
Ask questions about treatments and procedures. Find out what will be going on before, during and after a treatment or procedure.
Doctors don’t cure illness, they treat illness
The best way to communicate effectively with your doctor (or any healthcare practitioner) is with clearly defined questions, concerns and goals. As questions come up between appointments, write them down so you’ll be more organized during your appointment.
If you have a tendency to become passive during doctor visits, find a family member, neighbor, mirror, or friend to role-play the discussion so that you build confidence. And, use your notes as during your doctor visit.
As symptoms appear and disappear between appointments, make notes about this so that when you’re reporting the information to your doctor your information is easy to understand. Memories get hazy and nervousness tends to create mental confusion. It isn’t necessary to log every minor detail, but take notes about what you’re experiencing at the time it occurs so that the information remains clear.
Avoid relaying second-hand information you’ve received from friends or the internet about your condition to your doctor. Stick to the facts about you and your body.
Buddy system. Another set of eyes and ears are essential during any medical treatment, even a regular visit. Information comes up that later gets remembered improperly; answers to questions are forgotten and it is a simple, yet valuable measure in protecting our health.
Doctors don’t discourage intelligent participation – sometimes they’re just swamped like the rest of us and if you have something to say it’s up to you to say it. Your doctors will have more respect for you when you express more respect for yourself by demonstrating your genuine interest in your health instead of leaving everything up to them.
Consumer Reports published an informative article titled, ‘What doctors wish their patients knew.’
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