Administrative errors made when managing your health caused 10 times the death from car crashes in the US at 440K deaths per year. In fact, it’s the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA after heart disease and cancer (see Consumer Reports May 4, 2016). As a cancer graduate, this is near and dear to my heart.
I have personally experienced administrative errors in Canada and they are alive and well. In my particular circumstance, they had forgotten to tell me that I had been diagnosed with cancer. For my surgery, I circled the part being operated on with a marker and got a “that’s a very good idea” from the attendant. When my son was in one of the top hospitals in Canada, we corrected at least 3 administrative errors since there were lag times between when the doctor entered notes into the computer system and when the nurse visited.
In the USA, Consumer Reports is asking Americans to send a letter to their representative in support of a National Patient Safety Board (similar to the National Transportation Safety Board & the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). Follow link here to find a suggested letter via article “Patient Safety Advocates Urge the Creation of a National Patient Safety Board to Fight Medical Errors”.
What can you do as a patient?
Try to bring to all your appointments a second pair of eyes and both of you take good notes, ask lots of questions and do your research. For the hospital, this person will be your advocate since there will be a lot of activity. If you don’t have such a person, you might want to think about hiring a nurse to help you out. More important than a good doctor (a nice to have) is an administratively efficient medical team since even with a good doctor a small mistake by anyone on the team could kill you. Remember, they are human too and not infallible.
Ensure to follow-up with your doctor on all test results. Never accept “we’ll contact you if there is anything to discuss once we get the results back.” That means getting the exact test results paperwork from a patient portal or a photocopy from your doctor (which means a follow-up visit). Consumer Reports on Health reported in their March 2018 issue “Test information sometimes slips through the cracks. Some offices receive tests results on paper, which can get lost, misfiled, or overlooked. And even electronic results may not always be followed up on appropriately. … [Test results themselves] can be hard to read or interpret correctly – even for healthcare professionals at times. … The bottom line: You should know and understand your results, and never take anything for granted.” Once you have those test results in your hands, try to make sense of what they say by doing your own research. It can generate good questions for discussion with your doctor.
Finally, make an attempt at asking your doctor and clinic to adopt a patient portal to open up access to your doctors notes. OpenNotes.org, an international movement, has a canned email letter to send them: https://www.opennotes.org/join/. OpenNotes.org is referenced by the Canadian Medical Association Journal: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/186/11/811.