Imagine that 3 jumbo jets were to crash, killing everyone on board, every single day of every year.
A death toll of such a magnitude – let alone so many crashes in 1 day – is nearly too absurd to even comprehend, of course. Yet, this is the number of Americans who die by the hands of incompetent doctors, day in and day out. Lethal medical errors are so common – the third most common cause of death, to be exact – that they are responsible for more deaths than Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza, and pneumonia combined.
With so much uncertainty surrounding quality of care, patients are left with no choice but to take responsibility for their own health. One way is to be aware of warning signs that, while perhaps innocent, are good indications that something is not quite right. Here are 8 clear-cut signs that your doctor isn’t safe.
It may seem obvious that diagnostic errors signify incompetence. But this is 1 of the most under-recognized issues in patient safety – despite contributing to 10 percent of patient deaths – because so many patients suffer in silence.
“Misdiagnosis is the biggest problem,” says Joe Graedon, medical author and pharmacy professor. “This is where it all starts. If you get the diagnosis wrong in the beginning, it’s all downhill.”
Whether or not you have been misdiagnosed before, there are ways to recognize the signs. Your doctor may seem overconfident about the diagnosis, for example, or may rush you into treatment without taking sufficient time to understand your symptoms.
2.) Delayed News or Follow-Up
Overprescribing a drug or prescribing the wrong 1 is bad enough. But if a doctor fails to contact you about a diagnosis or unsettling treatment results in a timely manner, this is also indicative of negligence.
Equally, a good doctor will call or email to check up on you after a visit, or will offer a follow-up appointment. For example, after prescribing a new medicine, they should ensure their patient is comfortable and taking the correct dosage. When you don’t get that call, it’s not looking good.
3.) Rude Behavior
If you thought personality had nothing to do with medical skill, think again. According to a recent study, rude or disrespectful doctors are more likely to put their patients at risk of serious medical complications.
A doctor who doesn’t listen, answer questions sufficiently, communicate politely, or call you in from the waiting room on time should raise a red flag.
4.) Hospital Miscommunication
Good communication is not only critical between doctors and their patients, but also throughout the entire healthcare network.
Miscommunication between hospitals often stems from lack of reporting and gaps in medical records. This accounts for a high risk of diagnoses and treatment errors – which, incidentally, aren’t reported either when doctors aren’t willing to own up.
Technology has evolved to help mitigate miscommunication issues in critical handoff periods, but can never replace competent staff and strong doctor-patient relationships.
5.) Overcrowded or Unsanitary Conditions
As recent reports demonstrate – such as last year’s investigation on Bay State Medical Center – some healthcare facilities are notorious for administering the wrong drugs, performing the wrong surgeries, or exposing their patients to infections. Disregard for hygiene and the overall running of things is, of course, characteristic of a facility that disregards patient safety.
6.) Overworked Staff
Sleep deprivation in healthcare workers – resulting in lapses in attention, focus, or ability to make sound medical judgments, for example – can put patients in danger for obvious reasons. The issue, one study says, is shift length.
If you catch wind that the medical staff taking care of you work long shifts, you shouldn’t need any more convincing to switch clinics. According to the study, nurses who work shifts of 12.5 hours or over are 3 times more likely to make a medical error.
7.) Previous Malpractice
Again, this may seem obvious – but it takes a lot for a doctor’s license to be revoked. Doctors can be “disciplined” for unprofessional conduct such as inaccurate record keeping, patient abuse, deadly mistakes, or conviction of a felony with something as soft as probation. But, guess what? During a probation period, they are allowed to continue practicing medicine.
Not surprisingly, doctors aren’t in a hurry to admit any sanction and disciplinary records aren’t easy to access (although DocInfo is a good place to start). Consumer Reports is working to mandate that penalized doctors inform their patients and explain why. In the meantime, the onus is on the patient to investigate.
8.) Drug or Device Payments
Something else you may want to dig up is how much money your doctor receives from pharmaceutical and medical device companies. If your doctor’s office gets regular calls or visits from drug reps, or receives large sums of money from these companies, they may be illegitimately influenced by the industry. As such, who’s to say they won’t offer their patients inappropriate – or even defective – treatment options? The government has made this information available on the ProPublica website.
We’d all like to believe that good, dependable doctors are out there – but sadly, they are difficult to find. By watching out for these warning signs, you may at least have less chance of becoming the next victim of medical error.