How to help prevent medical errorsBy Veita Bland, M.D. / May 20, 2016
We have recently seen evidence that medical errors are a major cause of deaths. I was shocked when it was reported that these errors could be the third leading cause of death in the United States. I am sure this data will be verified, but regardless, any deaths from medical errors are unacceptable.
My next thought was, what processes I can implement to make sure this is not happening to my patients? Making sure that I am getting a patient’s entire medical event is important. That may mean sharpening my interviewing skills. Helping people get over that awkwardness of giving the entire information. Having the time to perform this interview in this time of medicine is indeed a problem. So I must be efficient with my interviewing skills.
I need to know all of the medications a patient is taking. Still, many who take herbal medications fail to inform their medical providers they are taking them. This is vital information and must be taken into account when new medications are prescribed. I cannot look for an interaction if I do not know someone is taking a particular supplement. This is particularly important when one is facing a major illness. Your bodily reserves are not the same and an herb that was once tolerated may no longer be a friend.
I need to know if another physician has changed a medication. Even though we have electronic medical records I may not know this. I need my patients to tell me this so I can take it into consideration as I care for them.
I need to make sure I look at all of the medications my patients are taking and make sure they are still needed. Have circumstances changed such as a loss in weight which may warrant modifications in medications? Has the illness now resolved thus warranting a halt in the medication? Have I gathered all the information I need to make sound decisions. Have I ordered the proper tests? Have all their maintenance testing such as mammograms, colonoscopies, gynecological, dental and eye examinations been performed? Sometimes patients come in and want a CAT scan or an X-ray done. Certain tests may only yield certain information. That information may not be what is needed for the problem at hand.
As I consider a problem that a patient has, am I considering alternative means of handling the problem? Is a pill the best way to handle the problem? When medication is added I have to consider how it affects the rest of the medications a patient is taking. Can I get that patient to look at a change in diet as their medication for that problem? Can I get them to consider learning to handle stress better through psychotherapy or learning to meditate as alternatives to medication?
I will certainly continue to hone my practice methods to find ways to be more thorough and efficient. The practice of medicine is indeed a difficult field that I have chosen. I read constantly about physician burnout. So, I also know that we as health care providers must take care of ourselves so that we are rested and healthy and can make the correct decisions that are critical to the care of others.
Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Email Dr. Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org.