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Who is responsible for medical error prevention?

When a patient is injured or even dies from a medical error, who should have prevented the error? The obvious answer is the medical staff that committed it. But some think patients themselves should play a more active role in accident prevention. Though some advocate the responsibility should rest squarely on the shoulders of the medical establishment, the best results in accident prevention would probably be found if everyone took some level of responsibility.

As a patient, you can take steps to prevent medical mistakes. By asking questions, demanding high quality care, and ensuring your doctor knows what he or she is doing, you can reduce your personal risk of being affected by a medical mistake. But there’s only so much you can do.

While both patients and medical providers should be involved in error prevention, the majority of the responsibility must lie with the care provider. After all, if you’re under anesthesia, there isn’t a whole lot you have control over.

Karent Wolk Feinstein of the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative and co-founder of the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement penned an editorial recently calling out the medical establishment, basically saying, “Don’t put your responsibilities on the patient.”

Her editorial was in response to a NY Times article called “Feds Want Patients to Report Medical Provider Mistakes,” the story covering the federal government’s move to “empower” patients by asking them to report doctor errors. Feinstein’s opinion is that it’s not the patients’ responsibility. As stated in the Post-Gazette:

The reporting of errors by hospitals, doctors and other providers is almost always voluntary and therefore often ignored, so the burden is passed to the patient?

Why is it voluntary in most settings for doctors to mark a surgical site before cutting, for staff to wash their hands, for hospital and examining rooms to be thoroughly cleaned, for safety checklists to be employed? Why do whistleblowers get marginalized? Why are interns and residents afraid to report mistakes they witness? Why are clinicians who often over-treat with unnecessary interventions and tests or who routinely under-treat and fail to perform evidence-based best practices allowed to continue doing these things? What if a patient isn’t even aware that medical mistakes are occurring? How could they tattle on their docs?

The gist of this argument is apparent. Please don’t ask patients to create systems that are safe, efficient and reliable. After all, they are sick or hurt! This is a role for health care leadership, supported wholeheartedly by professional associations who represent clinicians.

If you play an active role in your healthcare, you could reduce your risk of injury due to medical errors. However, when a mistake happens at the hands of a physician, you can’t be held responsible for that. The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., may be able to help. Call us today for a free consultation at 888-615-8590.

Patrick A. Salvi

Patrick A. Salvi concentrates his legal practice in several limited areas primarily involving a trial practice in cases concerning serious personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and mass torts. Mr. Salvi has achieved record-breaking jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, including serving as lead counsel in obtaining an Illinois record-high $148 million jury verdict and a Lake County record $33 million jury verdict.

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