hese days, hospital patients have to constantly be wary about the chances that they become a victim of medical malpractice or some other form of medical mistake. After all, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) recently reported that preventable medical errors are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The fact that patients are at such a high risk of injury and/or death by visiting a hospital or other healthcare facility shows just how beneficial it is for people to actively advocate for themselves in order to avoid being victimized.

Sixth Leading Cause of Death

According to a recent study from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a total of approximately 98,000 people die from preventable medical mistakes each year in the United States. Furthermore, the estimated cost of these fatal accidents sits at around $29 billion annually.

But death isn’t the only metric for measuring the harm that comes from medical malpractice, and the frequency of injuries is even more unbelievably high; the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that there were 181,000 severe injuries attributable to medical errors in 2003 (the latest available year for that data, even though it was 10 years ago).

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) estimates that as many as 15 million injuries result from medical malpractice each year in America. And as high as that number is, we can only assume that there are potentially millions more that go unreported each year as well.

But there are a number of things that patients can do before making a trip to the hospital or physician’s office that can protect them from becoming victimized by a negligent healthcare professional.

How to Avoid Medical Malpractice

First, see if you can convince someone you trust – i.e. a close friend or family member – to accompany you on your visit. Ask them to help you think of questions to ask and to keep an eye on things if you are unable to. Having a support group can make the entire process much safer and easier for the patient.

Ask your physician to explain exactly which medications are going to be given to you and explicitly describe any allergies or similar problems you may have with particular medications. Also, prevent infections by washing your hands and asking everyone who comes into contact with you (including the medical staff) to do the same.

You and/or the person you have asked to accompany you should double-check that all forms of patient identification (i.e. name tag or bracelet) are accurate. If you or your companion believes you may be a fall risk, voice your concerns to the medical staff and make sure you understand what is expected of both sides.

Finally, make sure that you and your support group fully understand what needs to be done once you have left the healthcare facility. Repeat instructions back to the doctor to avoid any possible confusion and be sure to keep track of any potential risks or signs that would require further medical attention. Some signs of medical malpractice are not apparent for several days or even weeks, so keep this in mind.

Granted, these tips may not be necessary for a routine physical or check-up. Before your appointment, do some research on the type(s) of procedure(s) that you are expecting to go through and see if there are any risks. Being your own best advocate gives you the best chance to avoid being a victim of medical malpractice.