Medical malpractice is a crisis in the United States healthcare environment. Deaths resulting from malpractice tally at approximately 250,000 people per year in the U.S., marking it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. Malpractice can happen in hospitals, clinics, surgical centers, nursing homes, pharmacies, and even in the patients’ own home.  

Patients should approach their interactions with the health care environment with caution to protect themselves against medical malpracticeHere’s what you can do to help ensure safer care.  

Diagnostic Errors 

The most common type of medical error in the United States relates to diagnosisThe mistakes run the gamut from delayed and missed diagnosis, failing to identify a related disease or simply incorrect. These mistakes can destroy lives, and doctors make these mistakes with frightening frequency.  

To protect yourself, before you see a doctor, write down your symptoms, concerns, and questions. When you see the doctor, pull out the paper and go through it. Better yet, make a copy (or ask the doctor’s staff to make a copy) to give the doctor to put in your medical record.   

Make sure your doctor has your health information, considers the possible causes of your symptoms, and rules out the most worrisome potential causes. Ask what the possible causes are, what diagnostic tests will rule out the most serious of them and if you can, for serious issues, bring someone else to act as your advocate – husband or wife, child, parent, or just a friend.  

For most of us, something strange happens when we see a doctor: The doctor is the expert. We don’t want to complain or bother the doctor. We want to believe the best. So we accept the doctor’s judgment — which may be offhand or not well considered — without questioning. If you bring an advocate whose job is to ask questions and pursue concerns, that person can probably do a better job of it than the patient.  

It’s your body. If the doctor overlooks something, you’re the one who will have to live with the results – not the doctor. Ask questions until you get the results you need.