News reports of medical blunders such as amputation of the wrong leg, a cancer patient dying due to an overdose of chemotherapy or death due to misdiagnoses are all too familiar these days. Patients are stunned when they discover that their medical care has been compromised. They are horrified when they learn-they must live the remainder of their life with the results of someone's mistakes or misjudgments. Doctors and medical professionals who were once looked upon as perfect are now many times accused of being incompetent, careless, or even lazy. Ironically, many of these patients must continue seeking medical treatment, however their trust in the medical profession remains challenged.
For the last century, doctors have been regarded as gods. Rarely questioned, their imperfections were tolerated and accepted as fate, or perhaps, "God's will." In all reality, doctors are human. They have and will always have to use their fallible skills and knowledge to bring about wholeness and health. Yet, despite best intentions, statistics do show:
• Medical malpractice is the eighth most common cause of death in America ! These preventable deaths exceed the deaths attributed to car accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS!
• One out of every four orthopedic surgeons have cut or will operate on the wrong limb at some point in his or her career. In 1998, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons launched a "Sign Your Site" campaign, encouraging surgeons to sign their names directly on the patient's skin, marking the spot intended for surgery, thus hoping to prevent these recurring mistakes.
• In November of 1999, the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine issued a report concluding that medical mistakes kill between 44,000 to 98,000 hospitalized Americans each year. Thousands more were injured, causing permanent disabilities, many not even knowing their doctors were at fault.
• Medication errors occur when the patient is given either the wrong medication or the incorrect dosage. Not all medication-related errors result in actual harm, but "medication mix-ups" can result in death. The 1999 National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine report titled, To Err Is Human , states, "Medication errors account for one out of 131 outpatient deaths and one out of 854 inpatient deaths."
• The People's Medical Society has suggested that patients spend the least time possible in a hospital. Hospitals are an infection waiting to happen. The longer one stays, the greater his chances are of picking up a hospital-acquired infection. According to the Federal Center of Disease Control and Prevention, deaths due to hospital-acquired germs are the fourth leading cause of mortality in the United States .
• Presently, not even our laws require doctors to confess, tell the truth, or inform the patient of the true cause of his or her condition. Only when directly asked by the patient of the true cause of his condition is a doctor legally bound to offer any information.
• And lastly, it's shocking but true; doctors are not required by law to carry medical malpractice insurance and several insist that malpractice insurance premiums are too high, thus electing to practice medicine uninsured. Oddly, in most states, one cannot legally drive a car without automobile insurance, yet, it is acceptable for doctors to perform brain surgery and not be covered by medical malpractice insurance. Despite these stunning facts, it is vital to understand that medical errors are usually not the fault of a bad doctor, but are made by good-yet imperfect-physicians using their human skills to heal. Doctors and medical professionals do make mistakes, they do at times forget, and they in no way know everything. We, as the consumers and patients can expect excellence, but not perfection.
Through my own medical nightmare, I've learned that patients can take an active role in combating the odds that face us. We can obey our doctor's orders, remind and question, our physicians that come to our rescue. Through my journey, I've met several great physicians and have had the privilege of speaking with many victims of medical negligence and fraud. I have as one suggested, "made a castle out of a pile of rubble!" Compiling our ideas and suggestions, things that we now look back on and say, "I should have been more knowledgeable. I wish I had known. . .." These tips are now our gift to you, aiding you in developing a healthy doctor-patient relationship. We trust that they will help you learn ways in which you, too, can partner with your doctor in managing your health care.