Can you avoid becoming a medical malpractice victim?

Nobody wants to become the victim of a medical mistake, but is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening? When you're sick, it's easy to feel powerless over your situation. That tends to make people feel as if there's nothing they can do but put their faith in the doctors and nurses in charge of their care.

The good news is that you aren't as powerless as you think. Here are the things you can do to protect yourself against medical malpractice (short of staying healthy and avoiding accidents):

  1. Don't self-diagnose. Websites like WebMD can help you come up with questions to ask your doctor. However, you shouldn't use them to diagnose your own condition. If you pick up wording from such sites and pass incorrect information on to your doctor, you could make an accurate diagnosis harder.
  2. Do not withhold information from your doctor. It's embarrassing, sometimes, to discuss bodily functions -- especially when things aren't working right -- but your doctor needs to hear about the problems you're having. Don't be shy. Your doctor has heard it all.
  3. Trust your instincts. If you don't believe that a doctor is listening or is on the right track, you have the right to a second opinion. Let the doctor know that you don't believe that his or her diagnosis fits the bill -- and why. Assert yourself.
  4. Ask plenty of questions. Don't accept half-baked answers. Make the doctor take the time to explain your condition and what it means for your life. Require an explanation about any medication changes that aren't fully explained to you before you agree to take them.
  5. Ask for backup. Most hospitals have a patient ombudsman or someone similar who can -- and will -- go to bat for you if you think that you aren't receiving appropriate care.

Finally, remember that you are the doctor's employer. You can fire them and get a new one if you want. If your medical care is substandard, however, and you're already injured, it's time to seek some advice about your legal options.

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Vincent J. DeSalvo, Attorney at Law
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Baton Rouge, LA 70809

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