Staying Well When Healthcare Is Ill
Most major media outlets waste no time in reporting provocative news about swine flu -- or other scary viral attackers, such as Ebola. Yet there's something that's just as dangerous -- maybe even more so -- that rarely gets a mention: medical errors. They cause more deaths in the United States and Canada each year than do accidents, cancer, and AIDS combined. Here's how to protect yourself:
Overcommunicate. Never assume your healthcare provider knows everything about you. Today's medical records are often incomplete, error ridden, or scattered among several sites, although a move to online medical records may eventually change that. (Keep your own records online for free using Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault -- they can be as private as you want.) No matter what you do, insist on sharing the following with all medical professionals:
- Any medical condition you have (diabetes, gingivitis . . . everything!)
- Every medication you're taking, including aspirin, vitamins, herbs, and supplements
- Details of past surgeries, hospitalizations, or treatments
- Medical records from previous provider
Assume nothing. We wish jokes about doctors' handwriting were just jokes. Fortunately, many docs now have electronic prescription devices that can send an encrypted e-mail to your pharmacy. Either way, make sure you know what you're getting, how and when to take it, what the side effects are, and what to do if you miss a dose.
At the pharmacy, confirm that you're receiving the right meds and that the dose is printed correctly.
Doctors and pharmacists are human, which means they make mistakes. To optimize your health, you need to be a smart patient. Medical care is just too complex for it to go without extra verification. Help erase errors by becoming a critical member of your own healthcare team.