A recent study from Consumers Reports suggests that patients who demand respect from their healthcare providers have better outcomes and are less likely to suffer from medical errors than patients who fail to do the same. Forbes magazine reported on the study and some of the significant findings involved.  The study of 1,200 recently hospitalized patients found:

  • Patients who felt they were not treated with respect were more than 2.5 times likely to suffer from a medical mistake
  • 29% of the patients felt a medical error occurred
  • 34% of the patients felt their wishes regarding treatment were not followed
  • 21% of patients felt they were not treated fairly or were discriminated against
  • 25% of patients believed they were not treated as capable competent adults

Medical errors such as a preventable Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) (notably, the third leading cause of death in the United States), wrong diagnosis, adverse drug reactions and prescribing mistakes are on the rise.  While the healthcare industry is trying to prevent medical errors through technological advances, the Consumers Report study indicates that technology may not be the only answer to the problem. The study found that patients can significantly reduce their risk of suffering from one of these medical errors if they are actively involved in their treatment and get the doctors and healthcare personnel to support and respect them. Patients and healthcare providers need to work as a team, with the doctor acting as the expert on the medicine and the patient acting as the expert on his or her own body.

How does a patient demand respect without the fear of being labeled as a “difficult patient”?

  • Get doctors to see you as a person. Patients often have long standing relationships with their primary care physicians.  However, in the hospital setting, you are most likely to be cared for by health care professionals you have never previously met.  As such, it is important to share personal information about yourself and your family, so that the healthcare providers can see you as a complex human being, rather than just a diagnosis or condition.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse to actually sit down with you. With so many medical professionals using computers to assist them, doctors and nurses no longer maintain eye contact or engage in conversations with their patients. A face-to-face conversation is a much better form of communication and, again, allows the medical team to get to know you as a person.
  • Get a patient advocate. Whether it be a family member, friend or hospital employee, have someone with you when discussing important information regarding your care, treatment and condition. Many patients are very ill and dealing with both physical and emotional issues, so having another person available to listen or speak for you can help you be treated with more respect by your medical team.
  • Learn when errors are most likely to occur. Hospital errors are most likely to occur during shift changes or when there is some other type of transition, such as changing units or floors.  It is especially important to have your patient advocate around when transitions are taking place.
  • Remember that your medical care should be a partnership. Teamwork, shared information, cooperation and the ability to ask questions without being accusatory should be the basis of your medical treatment. You should be assertive and prepared, but should treat your doctor and nurses courteously.  You should expect the same level of frankness and respect in return.
  • Keep a journal. Write down notes and questions that you would like answered so that when the appropriate person comes in the room you are equipped to both ask those questions and to make notes of the answers provided. You are entitled to an understanding of your condition and treatment. As such, you should continue to ask questions until you fully understand.

Patients can improve their quality of care if they take an active role in their healthcare and insist on being treated with respect.  The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice group have represented many patients who suffered from medical errors . If you have questions regarding your treatment or the treatment of a loved one, please contact us today.