Here’s a shocking statistic: doctors screw up 15 percent of the time. And thanks to a lax and over burdened healthcare system, medical errors and misdiagnoses kill an estimated 500,000 American annually.
“The consequences of this alarming level of bad decision-making, wrong diagnoses, and just plain incompetence are tragic,” notes renowned pharmacy professor and medical author Joe Graedon.
“It’s one thing if a mechanic, lawyer, plumber, or teacher makes a mistake. When a healthcare provider is wrong, the results are often deadly.”
Graedon, along with his wife Terry, host the award-winning radio program, “The People’s Pharmacy,” and have written a book called “Top Screwups Doctors Make — and How to Avoid Them.”
Graedon tells Newsmax Health the death toll is staggering and that patients must become advocates for their own health.
“Let’s put this in perspective,” he says. “The death toll from healthcare screw-ups is the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing every day of the year and killing everyone on board.”
Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer.
“Misdiagnosis is the biggest problem,” says Graedon, whose own mother died as a result of medical error. “This is where it all starts. If you get the diagnosis wrong in the beginning, it’s all downhill.”
Dr. David Newman-Toker, associate professor of neurology, ophthalmology, and otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the problem is escalating.
“There is no question that diagnostic errors are more common, costly and catastrophic than other medical errors, when one considers malpractice suits,” he tells Newsmax Health. “The Institute of Medicine report from 2015 says that diagnostic errors will affect every American in our lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.
“One reputable estimate says that they affect more than 12 million Americans each year, with up to one-third of these causing serious harm. There is a lot of debate about the overall numbers, but diagnostic errors are the ‘bottom of the iceberg.’ In terms of overall deaths from medical errors, the 500,000 number may be a gross underestimate.”
Newman-Toker, a well-known advocate for patient safety, says that the root cause of this debacle is “fee-for-service medicine which promotes volume over value,” with doctors spending less time with a growing case load of patients.
“But also important is the upward spiral in complexity and pace of care without corresponding investment in the infrastructure to monitor and manage quality,” he adds. “Both of these will be partially rectified by the trend toward value based care — but only partially since out system isn’t equipped to manage quality effectively.”
To help patients become their own advocate for quality control, Graedon suggests asking healthcare providers eight key questions. Doing so will make you less likely to become a victim of a medical mistake.
“Doctors are trained in medical school that if it sounds like hooves, then it must be a horse. But what if it’s a zebra? The number one reason doctors mess up a diagnosis is overconfidence,” he says.
Here’s what to ask:
- How confident are you of this diagnosis?
- What further tests might be helpful to improve your confidence?
- Are there any findings or symptoms that don’t fit your diagnosis?
- What else could these symptoms be caused by?
- Can you facilitate a second opinion by providing me with my medical records?
- When should I expect my test results? Will you call with them or will they come by mail or electronically?
- What resources can you recommend for me to learn more about my diagnosis?
- May I contact you if my symptoms change or if I have an important question?
“When it comes to medical care, you need to realize that YOU need to take charge,” Graedon says. “Don’t suffer in silence and don’t be afraid to ask a question and speak your mind.”
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