Doctor Errors Happen, Here are Some Ways to Avoid Them

Doctor Errors Happen, Here are Some Ways to Avoid ThemDoctor errors happen. That is a fact. Medicine isn’t the only occupation in which errors occur. There are mechanic errors, fast food errors, printing errors, etc… Every sort of work is going to have errors. Doctor errors, however, can have pretty significant, even life-threatening, consequences. We go to a doctor and expect that he or she will figure out what is wrong with us and what we can do to heal. When we are subject to a doctor error like a misdiagnosis, we can’t treat it like we got the wrong order at a hamburger joint. These errors can significantly impact our lives and the lives of those we love.

Modern medicine is great.  Every day, doctors are learning new ways to help their patients live longer, healthier lives.  With these advances comes a ton of new information doctors need to know. Unfortunately, this means there are more chances for doctor errors. In fact, a study in 2013 suggested that patients seeing their doctors for a new issue have up to a 15% chance of being misdiagnosed.

5 Conditions Doctors are Most Likely to Misdiagnose

  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary-tract infections
  • Kidney failure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer

How Do Doctor Errors, Like Misdiagnosis, Happen

Doctor errors do not occur because doctors don’t care. Doctors do want to get it right every time they see a patient.  The reality is that diagnosis is hard. In most cases, doctors have 15-20 minutes to figure out what is wrong with their patients.  They do this often with unintentionally bad information. Patients don’t mean to provide bad info but it is often incomplete or difficult to articulate. Then, sometimes patients intentionally don’t give all the information such as if they are taking or not taking certain medications or drugs.

Even the best doctors will make mistakes. They may be rushed, interrupted, or in some other way distracted while they visit with their patients. It is worth noting as well, that they may start off wrong if the wrong information is put into the medical record by the staff member that did the preliminary work up.

Finally, doctors may just fall into errors caused by the routine nature of their jobs.  This can happen to any doctor no matter how good he or she is. They do this by jumping to a diagnosis off of the first piece of information they receive, rather than considering all possibilities and then eliminating those that don’t fit the information presented. Or, they may draw a compare a patient’s condition to patients they have seen earlier and draw a connection that isn’t there. Finally, like everyone, doctors are not immune from stereotyping and may make an assumption or two based on the appearance of a patient.

Doctors are ultimately responsible for their performance. And patients who have been subject to doctor errors have every right to hold doctors and hospitals accountable for their errors.  Our firm’s practice is dedicated to helping victim’s of medical malpractice do just that. However, while we are here to help those who need help, we also want to help people avoid this kind of error in the first place.

How You Can Help Your Doctor Get The Right Diagnosis

It is important to remember that you are in charge when it comes to your healthcare. That makes it important for you to be involved in the process, especially when it comes to the diagnosis of your condition(s).  Here are a few ways you take control and be an involved patient.

  1. Schedule appointments early in the day – The earlier in the day you can schedule your appointment reduces the chance that your doctor will be overbooked or running late. Mistakes are always more likely when someone feels rushed.
  2. Make a list – Make a list ahead of time of your symptoms and what medications and /or dietary supplements you may be taking. Always note the doses and frequency of the medications.
  3. Have an advocate – If possible it is always a good idea to bring someone along who knows you and can help you remember what happened.
  4. What else could it be? – Ask questions, make sure you understand why your doctor has landed on a diagnosis. When you ask a question like “what else could it be?” it causes doctors to think through any other possibilities. You should always leave the doctor’s office with a diagnosis or a plan of action that will lead to a diagnosis that you can track.
  5. Get your test results – If you get sent for additional testing make sure you know when to expect the results and make sure you get them. Never just assume that test was normal if you don’t receive the results. Make sure that you understand what your test results mean and what the next steps, if any, are.
  6. Have a plan – If you’ve been given a diagnosis and a suggested treatment make sure you turn it into a plan. Ask your doctor what you should expect during the treatment. Make sure you know when you should expect improvement.  Then follow-up promptly with your doctor if anything deviates from the plan.
  7. Get a second opinion – You are in charge of your healthcare, if something doesn’t feel right or you aren’t sure about a diagnosis, get a second opinion.

Doctor Errors


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At Cirignani Heller & Harman, LLP, we represent Illinois clients in Chicago and throughout Cook County, including the cities of Cicero, Elgin, Schaumburg, Oak Park, Maywood, Berwyn, Elmhurst, Evanston, Skokie, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights, Palatine and Hoffman Estates. We also help clients in DuPage County, Kane County, Lake County, McHenry County, Will County and Winnebago County. If you have been the victim of medical malpractice in Illinois, CHH Law is the law firm with attorneys that can help.

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