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What can be done to prevent doctor errors?

Doctor errors happen for a number of different reasons. In New York, many physicians are seeing what feels like a constant stream of patients and in turn can feel rushed. Others can make a simple mistake or overlook a key part of a patient's medical history. However, what may seem like just a small error can end up being deadly for a patient.

Recently, one concerned wife shared her husband's experience. He had gone to the emergency room complaining of shortness of breath. He was told the shortness of breath was due to his weight and was sent home. Four hours later, he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. It turns out he had an asthma attack and could have died.

In looking at this case, one wonders how a doctor could have not realized what was really going on and just sent this man home. If he had been alone, he could have possibly died.

In general, in terms of medical staff, many are overworked. This, combined with fragmented medical records and human errors, puts patients at a risk for error when seeing a doctor or going to the emergency room.

For a patient, even realizing this can be rather frightening and frustrating. However, there are things a patient can do to lesser their chances of being misdiagnosed, including:

  • Ask questions after a diagnosis. Ask why other conditions were ruled out and what else can be done.
  • Do not get rushed out by a doctor. Rather, come prepared with questions.
  • Share all test results and diagnosis with all doctors and get a second opinion.

While taking these steps will not 100 percent guarantee an error will not be made, it is one way for patients to take control of their own health. Of course though, if a missed diagnosis -- or any kind of doctor errors -- leads to a medical complication, talk with an attorney to see what next steps can be taken.

Source: The Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Tips for helping your doctors avoid misdiagnosis: Drs. Oz and Roizen," June 4, 2013

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