9 Ways to Avoid a Deadly Medical Mistake

How to stay safe when you're trying to get well

This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

Americans are dying by the hundreds of thousands every year due to preventable medical mistakes like the wrong medicine or the wrong doses or deadly combinations of medicines. One study found that mistakes in hospitals are so frequent that, on average, a patient in any hospital or healthcare facility could encounter one mistake per day of their visit.

Believe it or not, one of the most common reasons for error is still your doctor’s handwriting. Even though there has been pressure for physicians to switch to electronic prescriptions, most doctors have not made the switch. And that leads to many errors in translation. The difference between life and death, in many cases, has come down to a doctor’s quickly scrawled script.

Here are nine tips on how to stay safe when you’re trying to get well:

#1: Involve an assertive friend or family member. It can take more guts than many people have, especially when they’re sick, to question those who care for them. Find somebody who’s not afraid to ask questions.

#2: Know your medical history. Or, bring someone else who knows it so questions from doctors and nurses can be answered appropriately. Bring a list of all your medications, supplements and allergies with you. Keep it updated, and be aware of what medications are supposed to treat what illness.

#3: Research your hospital so you know how competent they are. Use sites like Medicare’s Hospital Compare, Quality Check and The Leapfrog Group. Check your state health department website for hospital and physician safety records.

#4: Understand your medications. You should know how and when to take it as well as any other medications or vitamins you should avoid when taking it.

#5: Scrutinize your prescription. If you can’t read the handwriting on your prescription, your pharmacy may not be able to either. Talk to them and make sure you’re getting the proper medication for your condition. If they’re not sure, they can call your doctor.

#6: Research your medical procedure. You should know how often your doctor has done your procedure and what you should to do to get ready for it. You should also have a good idea of what to expect when you arrive and what you need to do afterwards. If your follow up care plan changes, ask why.

#7: Ask about the infection control procedures at the hospital and make sure the people caring for you follow them. Don’t let anyone who hasn’t washed his or her hands touch you. Don’t let staff allow their lab coat to drape across your body. Don’t let visitors put their clothing or personal belongings on your bed. If you’re bandaged, make sure those bandages stay secure and are dry.

#8: Double check your medications. In the hospital, make sure people check your ID bracelet before they give you a dose of medicine.

#9: Mark the surgery site. If you’re going to have surgery, ask that the site be marked with permanent marker.

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