4 tips to help Illinois patients protect themselves from medical errors

To protect against medical errors, patients should ask questions, voice concerns, keep written records and proactively address common mistakes.

When many Chicago residents seek medical attention, they expect to receive only the most attentive, scrupulous care. Medical errors are shockingly common in Illinois and other states, however. Earlier this year, research published in the British Medical Journal estimated that medical mistakes represent the third leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming over 250,000 lives annually. These errors may leave even more victims facing serious or catastrophic injuries.

Some of these errors might be virtually unavoidable, but tragically, many are considered preventable. As a result, most patients can benefit from knowing what steps to take to lower their likelihood of experiencing harmful medical mistakes.

1. Ask questions

Patients should feel comfortable asking questions about diagnoses, prescribed medications, upcoming procedures and other aspects of their treatment, according to Newsmax. Thoughtful questions can help draw attention to any oversights or misunderstandings that a physician might have made. Additionally, asking questions can help patients better understand their condition and care options, which can make identifying potential medical errors easier.

2. Address known risks

Patients can also take several specific steps to reduce their risk of experiencing common types of medical errors. Per Newsmax, these include:

  • Confirming that healthcare workers have washed their hands before allowing them to engage in physical contact. This can prevent hospital-acquired infections.
  • Informing prescribing physicians of all medication and supplement use, along with allergies and negative reactions. Providing detailed information can reduce the risk of a harmful drug interaction.
  • Preparing for invasive procedures by reviewing the nature of the procedure with both the physician and the surgeon. This can help prevent serious surgical errors, such as wrong-site operations.
  • Researching the background and specializations of different prospective doctors and hospitals. Healthcare providers may be less likely to make mistakes when treating conditions that they are more familiar with.

Patients also should take time to learn about their condition and their treatment options so that they can more effectively recognize potential mistakes.

3. Keep written records

Patients should also consider keeping written records of their treatment plans, advice from physicians and other important information, according to KOMO News. This can help reduce the risk of mix-ups or miscommunications occurring. Patients may also want to write down questions for their doctors or information that may help them receive more effective care, such as descriptions of their symptoms or responses to new treatment.

4. Express concerns

Finally, it is critical for patients to voice any concerns that they have about the quality, risks or suitability of a given procedure. KOMO News recommends that patients consider bringing a friend or family member to each appointment to provide assistance in this area. A loved one may be more willing to advocate for a person and more likely to notice errors.

Together, these measures may prevent some mistakes, but they may not spare every patient from harmful medical errors. Fortunately, in cases when an error should not reasonably have occurred, victims may be eligible to pursue recourse through a medical malpractice claim. Victims of medical mistakes or their loved ones should learn more about their legal rights and options by consulting with an attorney.