How to avoid surgery mistakes that could cost you and arm or a leg

surgeryWhat do you call someone who graduates from medical school at the bottom of the class? Doctor. Yes, an old joke but it rings true. So how can you avoid the kind of surgical mistakes that plague one Rhode Island hospital? Find a hospital with an excellent safety records about their procedures. That was just what I did before I entered the Orthopedic Hospital in Glendale, Wisconsin, for rotator cuff surgery.
It started at admission when the intake nurse asked which shoulder was to be prepared. Then she handed me a special pen to initial my right shoulder. Next I met the anesthesiologist who discussed pain control options and then put her initials on my right shoulder. She explained to me that this location would be checked again before the procedure began. There was a "pause" where everyone in the operating room stops and the record and patient are checked again. I woke up in the recovery room with the right shoulder bandaged.

Medical mistakes seem to happen all the time, so how do you protect yourself? Here are some insider tips to help you get the best medical care.

  • Ask nurses. The nurses always know which physicians have good outcomes and look out for their patients. Don't know any nurses? Ask the ones at your doctor's. office. They will usually tell you.
  • Find out who your doctor sends his mother to. My mother needed cataract surgery, so I asked my husband's cardiologist, who told me, "All the docs use Dr. Bloom for their parents." I looked no further.
  • Look for someone who is busy. Have to wait to get the initial consultation? This may be good. The best surgeons are very busy, even in the recession.
  • Ask the doctor about his/her statistics. How many procedures are done each year? What is the complication rate? Has there ever been a formal complaint or medical malpractice filed against him? In most states, you can also find this information online through the department responsible for regulation and licensing.
Barbara Bartlein, RN, MSW is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit The People Pro.
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