About the author:

Howard J. Luks, MD

Howard J. Luks, MD

A Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon in Hawthorne, NY. Dr. Howard Luks specializes in the treatment of the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle. He has a very "social" patient centric approach and believes that the more you understand about your issue, the more informed your decisions will be. Ultimately your treatments and his recommendations will be based on proper communications, proper understanding, and shared decision-making principles – all geared to improve your quality of life.

12 comments on “Your Role in Avoiding Medical Errors 101…

  • Asking to see your medical records should be repeated on at least an annual basis. Notes often go astray and, in some cases, one patient’s medical records can become mixed up with another’s. Keep your own records and do not assume, especially if you are visiting a specialist, that they will have all the important information to hand during your consultation.

    If you have difficulty in understanding the complicated things some doctors say, and there is nobody you can take with you, ask the dctor to help you make simple notes. You can go over these later with the help of a friend or family member, or you can ask a nurse to help you undertand them.

    If you are going in for surgery or any procedure in which you may be unable to speak for yourself, and you have any allergies or disability issues that might become relevant in a medical cotext, discuss them with the medical staff who will be treating you and make sure they listen. Don’t rely on the information being in your notes. Carrying a card with this information on it (clearly marked, e.g. with a large red cross, and easy to find) will give you some protecion if you should have an accident and be rushed in for treatment when you are unconscious.

    • Thanks for the comments Jennie. This is a very important topic given the large number of medical errors that occur each and every day. Patients can and should take a very active role….

      Hopefully these pointers help..

      Howard Luks

  • Great read. Patients and their advocates need to be involved. For this very reason we have our nonprofit CampaignZERO and the book, Safe and Sound in the Hospital.

  • Timely post. Poor communications between physicians and patients as well as poor communications between your physician and the specialist are the biggest contributors to medicaal errors amd malpractice claims.

    Here are some additional suggestions for avoiding medical errors:

    1) Do not assume that your doctor anf specialist have spent much time talking – ask the specialist to review with you his/her understanding of the problem…if you don’t agree correct the misunderstanding right away. It is always safer for you to assume that your care givers are not talking…and by over communicating your needs and concerns.

    2) Do not assume that if something is important you will be told by the physician – often lack of time and rushing can prevent the exchange of valuable information.

    3) Research shows that phsyicians tend to over estimate the amount of information 1) patient want and 2) that they as physicians actually give you. When in doubt ask!!! It’s your health…not theirs.

    4) Do not assume that the medical record is correct…asuume it is not. After all have you been shown your medical record?? Have you asked to see it asd Dr. Luks suggests??

    5) Call your primary care physician when you get out of the hospital and tell them you were hospitalized or had surgery. That way they know and can better follow up on existing issues. Believe it or not…it takes a while for specialists to share their notes with your doc.

    Best recommendation – stay healthy and away from hospitals

    Steve wilkins

  • I came across this blog while looking for materials on diagnostic error propagation in in-hospital medical records (paper). The following story from Prof L.Weed in 1989 affirms why every patient , or their carer, should have a copy of their own record. This may be in e-format or paper if there are no e-facilities.
    Prof. L.WEED – PATIENT
    In the latter regard, I remember the day in a medical centre on a ward with a modern information system when they wanted to present a patient to me on rounds.
    I said “ Do not present a new patient: tell me who is going home today”.
    The nurse volunteered the name of a middle-aged woman who had Lupus for 10 years. I suggested that they give me 15 minutes with the patient and then they could return for discussion.
    I asked the patient to tell me all about each of her problems. She knew very little about the medical problems.
    “ Do you have a copy of your own medical record?”
    “ Are all your medications in your bedside stand, and does the nurse come around at regular intervals to see if you are taking the right ones at the right time?”
    “No. The nurse just comes with little paper cups with pills in them, and I swallow whatever is there.”
    “ Do you know what a flow sheet is – what parameters we are trying to follow – what end points we are trying to reach?”
    At this point I called the staff back together and told them what I had found. Their reactions were:
    “ We never give patients their records.”
    “ We do not have time to give the medicines that way.”
    “ It would not be safe to leave them her with them unattended- she is on many powerful drugs.”
    “ The patient is not very well educated and I do not think she could do all the things your questions imply.”
    I then said:
    “ But you said she is going home this afternoon. She lives alone. At 2 PM you will put her in a wheelchair, give her a paper bag full of drugs, and send her out the door. Are you going home with her?”
    “ No. Is her management at home our problem?”
    “ You just said she could not handle it – who will do it?”
    “ The patient may not seem well educated or very bright to you, but what could be more unintelligent than what we are doing?”
    We must think of the whole information system, and not just infinitely elaborate on the parts that interests us or fit into a given specialty. Patients do not specialize, and they or their families are in charge of all the relevant variables 24 hours a day, every day. They must be given the right tools to work with. They are the most neglected source of better quality and savings in the whole health care system. After all:
    1. They are highly motivated, and if they are not, nothing works in the long run anyway.
    2. They do not charge. They even pay to help.
    3. There is one for every member of the population.”

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