How to Prevent Medical Mistakes

7 need-to-know tips from an insider.

By Pamela F. Gallin | MD from Reader's Digest

Trust your instincts. If you have questions about a lab result, diagnosis or treatment, speak up. And be persistent. After you have a lab test or diagnostic image, call your doctor to make sure he received the results. Don’t worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings. This is about you.

Choose wisely. The doctor you pick is only the first member of a team of specialists
involved in your care. She’ll likely assemble the rest of the team, so finding the right doctor is doubly important. So, too, is the hospital you choose. There are no guarantees, but usually, the better the hospital, the better the team.

Read the label. Many lab mix-ups start in your doctor’s office. When giving a blood or other specimen, ask the nurse, politely, to show you the identification sticker to make sure it’s accurate.

Do it again. If a lab
result is unexpected or alarming, your doctor may have you retested. If he doesn’t, ask him about a do-over.

Carry a medical passport. A summary of your vital health information is a must. It should list diseases, medications and doses, food and drug allergies, and phone numbers of your physician and nearest relative. Take it with you to every doctor you see — even the radiologist.

Be a pack rat. Keep copies of all lab reports, x-rays, MRIs and CT scans, plus names and addresses of your MDs.

Get a second opinion. It’s crucial to your health. If a diagnosis
requires surgery, chemotherapy or medications with side effects, find another specialist (call the hospital’s referral service for help), and send him all your pathology and radiology lab work for review, both the images and reports. When you get the second opinion, make sure you understand it. If not, talk to the doctor until you do.

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