Healthcare mistakes cost more than 500,000 American lives annually. That’s the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing every day of the year and killing everybody aboard.
The massive number of medical screwups in the United States is a scandal that is largely going unnoticed, says Joe Graedon, who writes a popular syndicated column and hosts a radio show called The People’s Pharmacy with his wife Terry.
“There is no outrage, no plan to change a system that allows too many to die unnecessarily,” Joe Graedon tells Newsmax Health. “The medical profession seems largely immune to the consequences of its errors.”
Medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease and cancer. And a growing cause of this scary statistic is medical misdiagnosis, or as the Graedons bluntly put it, “doctor screwups.”
The scary thing is that the medical mistakes are so widespread that it is clear that even good doctors are guilty of them.
David Newman-Toker, M.D., a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, says that making the wrong diagnosis is the most harmful mistake doctors make, accounting for some 150,000 deaths or serious health problems a year.
Why does it happen? Here are four pitfalls that often trip up even good doctors, according to experts:
1. Overconfidence: Studies show that doctors are often too close-minded and not willing to consider alternative possibilities for disease. “They will diagnose the most common condition based on symptoms,” says Joe Graedon, who co-wrote the book Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them, with his wife. “Some serious but commonly misdiagnosed illnesses include blood clots in lungs, drug reactions, and several forms of cancer.” What you can do: Don’t hesitate to ask your physician if your symptoms could point to something else, or simply ask: “What else could it be?”
2. Patient overload: Doctors can jump to incorrect conclusions because they don’t take the proper time to stop and think clearly. Cutbacks in payments from insurance companies and the federal government encourage physicians to see more patients in less time. In medical speak it’s called “hamster treadmill medicine” or “assembly line medicine.”
What you can do: If you feel you haven’t been given enough information, ask for your records to seek a second opinion.
3. Undelivered test results: According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, one out of 14 patients with abnormal test results never hears about them. The test results simply fall through the cracks and nobody follows up. The patient wrongly assumes everything is OK.
What you can do: “Don’t assume no news is good news,’ says Joe Graedon. “Doctors often fail to inform their patients, so you have to be vigilant and follow up yourself. Ask when you should receive your test results and how they will be given to you. If you don’t hear anything, call the clinic.”
4. Failing to revise the plan: “Here’s an example: We frequently hear from patients who have experienced severe muscle pain and weakness as a side effect of a statin-type drug,” he says. “The doctor responds by prescribing another statin. Although this works occasionally, more often than not the patient has the same symptoms all over again, only to be prescribed yet another statin.”
What you can do: Don’t let your doctor try same the strategy over and over again if it is not working. Be clear about your symptoms and be assertive in asking for information about alternative treatments.
“Ask your questions in a friendly conversational manner,” suggests Joe Graedon. “You want your physician to be your ally, not your enemy, so don’t be adversarial. Write down your questions before your appointment.”
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