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How you can protect yourself from medical errors

A study released at this time last year by researchers at Johns Hopkins University raised some very real concerns about patient safety. To recap, the study, published in The BMJ, found that over 250,000 deaths per year can be attributed to medical errors, making it the third highest cause of death in the U.S.

While there has since been some debate as to whether this is indeed the case, there is no denying that medical errors are a very real concern that must be taken seriously by both physicians and patients alike. Indeed, questions naturally arise as to what patients can do to protect themselves. 

The good news is that there are some relatively simple steps patients can take in most any scenario to help prevent falling victim to medical errors. By way of example, consider the always nerve-wracking reality of a patient learning they will need to undergo a surgical procedure.

Initial considerations

Upon learning that a surgical procedure is likely necessary, a patient may inquire as to whether there are any effective non-surgical alternatives or seek a second opinion. If these efforts result in the conclusion that undergoing surgery is indeed necessary, experts advise selecting a hospital that performs a high volume of the procedure.

Pre-surgical considerations

Before being taken into the operating room, patients can inquire as to whether the surgical team uses a checklist, as research has demonstrated these prove highly effective in preventing everything from surgical errors to infections.

Another valuable precaution patients can take is to confirm the site of the surgery with all members of the surgical team to ensure the procedure is performed at the right location/on the correct body part. It may be worthwhile to have the surgeon mark the area beforehand.


A patient should not necessarily let their guard down after the procedure, say experts, as the risk of medical errors or complications is still high. For example, they advise patients to ensure any medications they receive during their stay have labels and that these labels coincide with their physician's orders.

Furthermore, in order to mitigate the threat of infection, patients can request that all caregivers properly sanitize their hands before providing treatment and request regular updates on catheters, which are often primary sources of infection.


Prior to discharge, patients should not only review all medication instructions, but also be certain to ask as many questions as they would like. In this context, knowledge is truly power.

Above all else, it's important to understand that if you have been seriously injured or lost a loved owing to what you believe was medical negligence, you have options.

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