How your doctor treats you may predict medical error risk

New research from Consumer Reports' Patient Safety Project provides new insight on the topic of preventing harmful medical errors. Unlike other recent studies on the matter, this report focused not on high-tech safety systems but on everyday common courtesy.

In its survey of 1,200 people who had recently been hospitalized, Consumer Reports discovered a strong correlation between the levels of respect that patients received from hospital staff and the likelihood that they had experienced a preventable medical error. Compared with patients who said they were "usually" treated with respect, those who said they were "rarely" treated with respect were two and a half times more likely to have been affected by a medical error.

Discourteous behavior linked to error risk

Examples of the types of disrespectful behavior that patients reported in the survey include:

  • Being interrupted while talking to hospital staff.
  • Being excluded from conversations about their care.
  • Having their concerns or questions dismissed.
  • Having their treatment preferences disregarded.

Preventable medical errors kill an estimated 440,000 people each year in the United States, according to statistics cited in the report. Many more patients suffer debilitating non-fatal injuries and illnesses due to completely preventable errors such as adverse drug interactions, surgical errors, wrong diagnosis and hospital-acquired infections.

Although doctors, nurses and other medical providers have a legal and ethical duty to keep their patients safe, the numbers speak for themselves: Each day, about 1,200 people die because their medical providers fail to uphold that duty.

When someone is killed, injured or becomes ill as a result of a preventable medical error, the medical provider may be financially liable to the patient - or the patient's family members - for the harm that has occurred. This means that the provider can be required to pay for the cost of any follow-up care and rehabilitation as well as lost wages and other damages.

Encouraging respectful doctor-patient relationships

Because the unfortunate truth is that medical professionals cannot always be relied upon to keep patients safe, it is wise for patients to take steps to protect their own safety. To that end, the authors of the Consumer Reports study suggest several strategies that patients can use to encourage respectful behavior from hospital staff, which may help reduce the risk of medical errors. Highlights among these include:

  • Get to know your health care providers and help them see you as an individual - not just a diagnosis - by engaging them in conversation and sharing details about yourself.
  • Bring along a friend or family member who can advocate on your behalf.
  • Be aware of when errors are most likely to occur, such as when moving from one unit of the hospital to another or during shift changes.
  • Keep notes about the care you receive as well as any questions or concerns that you have.
  • Ask for clarification if a provider says something that you don't understand.

In the event that a preventable medical error harms you or someone in your family in the Washington, D.C. area, the medical malpractice lawyers at Fay Law Group, P.A. can help you protect your legal rights and evaluate your options for pursuing compensation.