Medical errors are an unfortunate and all too common reality of the healthcare system. Due to the nature of the care being provided, some fields of medicine carry a particularly high risk. While not all errors constitute medical malpractice, these high-risk fields are under greater scrutiny from regulatory bodies and the legal system – and ideally by their potential victims, patients like you. Here’s a few guidelines you can follow to help avoid becoming a statistic in one of these five high-risk fields.
1. Surgical Specialties
Surgical specialties such as neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, and orthopedic surgery often have a higher risk of medical malpractice due to the complexity of procedures being administered. Invasive surgeries carry inherent risks, and even small errors can lead to life-altering consequences. To avoid becoming a victim of surgical malpractice:
- Research your surgeon: Investigate the credentials, experience, and track record of your surgeon. Ensure they are board-certified and have a history of successful surgeries.
- Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the procedure, potential risks, and alternatives. A well-informed patient is better prepared.
- Get a second opinion: If you’re unsure about the recommended surgery, consult another specialist for a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan.
2. Obstetrics and Gynecology
Birth injuries are one of the most common forms of medical error and fall under the care of OB/GYN professionals. Misdiagnoses and surgical errors are additional risks that can have serious consequences for both mothers and newborns. You can help protect yourself by:
- Choosing a trusted OB/GYN: Depending on your specific medical needs, research and select an OB/GYN with a reputation for safe and effective care during prenatal, pregnancy, childbirth, and neonatal care.
- Attending regular check-ups: Make regular prenatal visits early and often to allow your healthcare provider to monitor your health and address any concerns.
- Asking about procedures: Understand any recommended procedures or interventions during childbirth, and ensure they are necessary.
Administering anesthesia and monitoring a patient’s vital signs during the procedure are two of the most crucial aspects of any operation. Errors in the duties of an anesthesiologist can be life-threatening. To reduce the risk:
- Discuss medications and allergies: Provide your anesthesiologist with a comprehensive list of your medications and any allergies. Failure to do so can result in an error that is not only detrimental, but one which is difficult to prove in court.
- Ensure monitoring: Ask your healthcare professional to verify that proper monitoring equipment will be used during your procedure, and that a qualified anesthesiologist will be present at all times.
4. Emergency Medicine
In the fast-paced world of emergency medicine, errors can occur due to the pressure of quick decision-making. Protect yourself in emergency situations by:
- Communicating clearly: Provide your medical history, allergies, and any relevant information to emergency room staff.
- Asking for clarification: Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your diagnosis, treatment plan, and any medications prescribed.
- Asking “what else could it be?”: So often, emergency medicine doctors assume it’s the common diagnosis causing your symptoms, rather than the most dangerous diagnosis. Ask your doctor what else might be causing your symptoms.
5. Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging
Misinterpretation of diagnostic images, such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, can lead to misdiagnoses and delayed treatment. To avoid these pitfalls:
- Choose accredited facilities: Opt for reputable radiology centers and hospitals that use state-of-the-art equipment and employ experienced radiologists.
- Request copies of images: Keep copies of diagnostic images and reports for your records, and share them with all your healthcare providers.
- Consider getting a second read: There are board-certified radiologists who are willing to perform a second read of your imaging studies. It never hurts to have a fresh set of eyes take a look at your radiology studies.
While malpractice can occur in any field of medicine, some areas are inherently riskier than others. To protect yourself from falling victim to medical malpractice, it’s crucial to be an informed and proactive patient. Research your healthcare providers, ask questions, seek second opinions when necessary, and communicate openly about your medical history and concerns. By taking these steps, you can reduce your risk of medical malpractice and help ensure you receive the best possible care from any healthcare provider.