We put a great amount of trust in medical professionals. Whether we are visiting an obstetrician to monitor a pregnancy or a pathologist for an acute illness, we tend to assume that doctors have our best interests at heart, and that their suggested treatment plan will yield the best results for us. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Misdiagnosis, a failure to diagnose a condition, prescribing the wrong medication, improper dosing, negligent supervision – all of these can cause injury or even cost you your life.
By taking the initiative to learn as much as possible about your health care and that of your child – particularly if you are a new mom, you can be your best advocate, demanding proper treatment and helping prevent instances of medical malpractice. Members of the legal community, contrary to popular belief, do not want you to suffer harm at the hand of a doctor, nurse, hospital or clinic. Attorneys and patient advocacy groups work tirelessly to seek compensation for your injuries or losses, but their ultimate goal is to improve the health care system for adults and children alike in order to raise the standard of treatment for all of us.
Question the Authority of Medical Professionals
When you are visiting a medical provider or facility, you should be as thorough as possible. Take notes both ahead of time (to detail your symptoms) and during the visit (to understand the nature of your condition). It is also important to ask questions. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has compiled lists of questions for many procedures if you are unsure what to ask your physician. Some beneficial questions to ask include:
- What is my diagnosis? Make sure that the doctor explains the condition in plain English that you can understand
- If you were prescribed medication, ask why you are taking it, how you should take it and if there are any common side effects you can expect?
- If you need tests, ask what they are, why they are necessary, any risks associated with it and what the results will mean for your prognosis?
- What is my prognosis? What does my treatment plan entail?
- How quickly will I need to make the decision about which treatment plan is right for me?
- Will I need surgery?
- How can I learn more about my condition?
Some health care providers will assume that you are over-reacting or will be reluctant to answer your questions. This may be a sign that you are in need of another provider. If you are committed to a particular doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner or hospital, then be persistent with your questions. Being informed and involved in the process, you can secure better treatment for yourself, your children and other family members.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Build Your Question List