Medical mistakes occur every day. According to NPR's reference to the Journal of Patient Safety, the third leading cause of all deaths in America are related to medical error in hospitals. Patients and family members need not be paranoid about their care if they are admitted to a hospital, but may want to take a few steps if they suspect signs of substandard care or negligence.
If someone is concerned about the possibility of medical malpractice while they or a loved one are in a hospital, ask a trusted family member or friend to help in these steps:
- Keep a journal. If you hear nurses and attending staff discussing administering prescriptions that conflict with what the physician prescribed, or you see staff with dirty hands checking vitals and drawing blood without taking proper hygiene precautions - write these details down. Note the day, time, if you reported the actions to supervising staff and what their responses were. Of course, if you witness anything that could compromise the health of the patient - take action immediately and write a journal entry later. If you don't have paper and a pen with you, most phones and all smartphones come with note applications, memo applications, and cameras. Type notes, voice record an account of the circumstances, depending on the situation (check with an attorney first) you might want to record conversations, take photos or video of actions that concern you. If the patient or their loved ones ever pursue a lawsuit, this evidence could be critical in negotiations with the provider or help educate a jury on the level of care provided or lack thereof.
- Check the medical board. The North Carolina Medical Board as well as insurance companies and national boards keep records of actions pursued against physicians. Learn more about how to find complaints against doctors.
- Medical records. If the patient is well enough, have them request copies of medical records throughout the course of treatment. This helps keep all details in one accessible place and prevents delays if they are needed for reference. If the patient is not well enough or has died as the result of suspected malpractice, a spouse or agent-in-fact named in a healthcare power of attorney (or an executor if the patient is deceased) will likely have the authority to request records. Keep in mind, patient privacy laws are strict so if the patient is in a condition to complete a power of attorney, that could be helpful if they become incapacitated. Medical records are of course important evidence, but they can also help another doctor provide a second opinion about the patient's condition and care.
Raleigh medical malpractice and board certified trial attorney Brent Adams authored a book entirely about mistakes made in medical malpractice cases. For more details like the ones noted above, request a copy of The Truth About Medical Malpractice Mistakes. The book is free to anyone in North Carolina who suspects they or a loved one experienced negligent healthcare.