A doctor should act as a trusted confidant and assistant. At times, however, health care professionals make errors that result in permanent injuries or death.
To avoid these mishaps, communicate directly with your doctor. When you and your physician work together to discuss symptoms and treatments, you both help avoid potential medical malpractice. Read the suggestions below to see how you can improve your communication with your healthcare provider before, during, and after your checkup or procedure. For more information, click here.
Before a Checkup or Procedure
Prepare Your Questions and Concerns
In the months, weeks, or days leading up to your appointment, make notes of any information that would benefit your doctor. Record new symptoms, medication side effects, or research that troubles you.
Bring these concerns up on your own—if you wait for the doctor or staff, they might not address your specific issue. When you ask questions, you make it clear that you have a worry or concern so the doctor can address it.
As you prepare your list, don’t avoid issues that make you uncomfortable or shy. Your transparency helps the doctor understand your condition completely. A good doctor should try to make patients feel comfortable enough that they can ask any question, so you don’t need to feel like you have an embarrassing concern. Remember, doctors and healthcare professionals handle personal issues every day.
Research as Necessary
Use online resources as a supplement to your questions. You might find an issue that concerns you in your study. However, seek out trusted and credible sources. Federal agencies can offer some of the most trusted information. Avoid working with a doctor who discredits your concerns, but also understand that some sources offer more reliable information than others.
Learn How to Access Medical Records
With electronic health records, patients can often access their records prior to an appointment. You can use your test results, medications, diagnoses, and treatment plans to see what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Ask the clinic if they have a way for you to view this information from home.
During a Checkup or Procedure
Bring a Friend or Family Member
You might find that a friendly face calms your nerves during your visit. If a close friend or family member puts you at ease, you might feel more comfortable communicating with your doctor. Additionally, he or she can explain symptoms or ask questions you feel uncomfortable addressing yourself. A friend or family member can also bridge gaps between language barriers and cultural divides, a common source of doctor-patient miscommunication. Perhaps most importantly, your friend or family member can act as another set of eyes and ears to know what happened during the appointment should questions arise at a later time.
You can keep your own record, have your companion take notes, or use a tape recorder. You can also get notes from the doctor personally—have him or her write down instructions and any other important information. This step ensures that you follow doctor’s orders precisely, but it also protects you in case of malpractice. If your healthcare provider misleads you, your record becomes important evidence.
Make Sure You Understand
If you have questions about your treatment plan, medication, or diagnosis, don’t wait until after you leave the office or your next appointment. If you don’t understand an explanation or answer, keep asking questions until you do. If you misinterpret your doctor’s direction, you could hurt yourself and your legal clout.
If you choose, ask your doctor for any resources that will help you further understand your condition and treatment. You can also communicate with nurses and pharmacists who might share additional information with you.
Assess Your Doctor
One of the best ways to protect yourself from medical malpractice is to determine how your physician addresses your questions and concerns. If you feel your doctor undervalues your opinions, worries, or fears, consider working with a different doctor.
You deserve a physician who makes you feel comfortable and talks openly about any procedures, treatments, and prescriptions. A helpful doctor sees things from his or her patient’s viewpoint and utilizes empathy. Additionally, healthcare professionals should deliver information in a clear and appropriate way.
Look for a doctor who:
- Listens carefully
- Displays respect
- Recognizes cultural and ethnic diversity
- Helps patients learn and understand
- Addresses patient concerns and fears
- Includes patients in treatment decisions
- Provides honest answers
If for some reason you distrust your doctor, a switch might be the best long-term option.
After a Checkup or Procedure
Contact Your Doctor if Needed
You may need to contact your doctor if you have unexpected complications or questions. If you wait until your next appointment, the issues could become more dangerous. Instead, ask your doctor how he or she prefers you to contact him or her.
If you struggle to communicate after your appointment, it might indicate you should look for help elsewhere. Medical malpractice victims often feel deserted. If you sense your physician avoids your needs or cannot address them, seek treatment from another source.
In the end, the patient can only do so much to avoid medical errors. As a patient, you put your trust in doctors to accurately diagnose and assess your concerns, and to treat any conditions they may have. If an error does occur, your thorough preparation will support a malpractice claim.