Be Aware: 7 Facts Every Patient Must Know About Medical Negligence
When can you sue a hospital for medical negligence? Read everything about it from a seasoned doctor.
In the last one month, 13 people lost their vision after a cataract surgery camp in Hyderabad, a super specialty in the Capital operated on the wrong leg of a patient, a top Bangalore hospital is under the scanner for allegedly making a healthy woman HIV positive after blood transfusion and a four-month-old baby in Thiruvananthapuram died apparently after a hospital administered wrong medicines for a diaper rash.
Medical negligence is rampant.
In the US, it’s the third largest killer after heart disease and cancer. While we have no such data for India, it is an undisputed fact that medical errors can be a nightmare, both for patients, and for doctors.
However, this is one of those topics which we prefer to sweep under the carpet, because it can be so emotionally charged.
As a patient, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming a part of this scary statistic.
7 Steps To Becoming the Empowered Patient
For starters, patients must remember that not every bad outcome is a result of medical negligence, though they often jump to this erroneous conclusion. So how do you really win a lawsuit against medical negligence?
Establish in court that the:
- The doctor (defendant) owed you a duty to conform to a particular standard of medical care
- The doctor was derelict and committed a breach of duty
- Or have proof that as a patient you suffered actual damage,
- And the doctor’s conduct was the direct/proximate cause of the damage.
How do you establish these four conditions or avoid a case of medical error? By becoming an empowered patient.
An empowered patient is one who:
1. Assumes responsibility: You know your body better than anyone else and this makes it important for you to refer all the resources you can lay your hands on, ranging from people to the printed word, to make an informed and critically evaluated decision.
2. Collaborates: Know that this is a challenging journey and that you will need help to traverse this path. Support can be invaluable, so please be gracious in accepting it. Co-operate fully with the medical staff during your diagnosis and treatment processes.
3. Gathers evidence: Leave no stone unturned when it comes to learning more about your illness and treatment options. Check with other patients, make observations, record symptoms, take family histories, participate in clinical research, and use the internet to become well-informed.
4. Stays safe: Be vigilant; do not let your guard down. Medical errors can occur at the best of establishments, and you need to ensure that you don’t become the victim of those errors.
5. Appoints a patient advocate: If you don’t feel confident enough about handling everything yourself, seek support from a more knowledgeable and resourceful patient-advocate, who will be able to work the system in your favour. They can easily achieve what patients and their families sometimes can’t – get prompt and safe medical care.
6. Is firm: Once you have made prudent choices, stand by them and you will find that you are more confident and in control.
7. Organises and updates her medical records: Fed up of the medical files and want to create your own comprehensive personal health record? Log on to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and do it here.
Victim Of Medical Error? Here’s What You Should Do
1. Talk To the Doctor: Before filing a medical negligence complaint, which can be a time consuming process and can drain a lot of energy, it’s best to first talk to the doctor, to see if he can resolve the problem.
Sometimes, it may just be a simple misunderstanding, and it’s best to give the doctor the benefit of the doubt.
2. Take It Up With Higher Authorities: If you feel you are not being heard, then you can escalate this by talking to the hospital administration or the CEO. Make your complaint in writing, so it is documented, and they take it seriously.
3. Call a Seasoned Medical Malpractice Lawyer: If this doesn’t work, then you may want to engage a lawyer, so that they will take your letters seriously, and they can see you mean business.
4. Knock Other Doors: If this fails, then you have multiple avenues for redressal, such as the State Medical Council, the consumer dispute redressal forum; and the court. However, these are complex procedures and should be used only as a last resort.
(Dr Aniruddha Malpani is an IVF specialist, and an Information Therapist who believes in empowering patients. He feels that medical errors are a taboo topic which doctors prefer sweeping under the carpet and this causes a blame game to start when they occur. In a bid to promote safe medical practice and reduce errors, he’s authored the book, Patient Safety - Protect Yourself From Medical Errors)
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