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How to avoid Becoming a Victim of Medical Malpractice

Medical errors are a common cause of death or injury in the United States. Mistakes kill more than a quarter of a million people per year, injure millions more, and are the third leading cause of death in the country by one estimate.

Medical personnel may make a wide variety of mistakes during surgeries, operations and routine check-ups, some of which are extremely disturbing and alarming. For example, doctors can fail to verify the identity of a patient, leading to the treatment of the wrong illness in the wrong patient. Surgeons may also fail to remove equipment used during an operation from inside a patient's body, leading to pain, fever and swelling.

Patients with dementia or other mental disorders may get lost and wander around the hospital, becoming trapped in the process. Waiting rooms can be overflowing, preventing prompt treatment. There is also the problem of unlicensed doctors or scam artists pretending to be doctors. As may be expected, this frequently leads to misdiagnoses or ineffective treatment.

Operations are associated with some of the most common instances of medical malpractice. In certain operations, if the hole in the patient's chest where the chest tube was located is not properly sealed, air bubbles can enter into the wound and cut off the blood flow to the patient's vital organs, which can be fatal if left untreated. Also, physicians can mistake the chest tube for a feeding tube, which results in the pumping of medicine into the chest intended for the patient's stomach. Perhaps the most terrifying mistake is an under-dose of anesthesia, leading to the patient waking up during the operation. The patient feels the prods and pokes of the operation, even if he or she is not in any actual pain.

Vigilance is key to avoid falling victim to medical malpractice, Patients can ensure that doctors check wristbands to avoid cases of mistaken identity, and family members can insist that patients with dementia be outfitted with a GPS to avoid wandering. Patients can ask for confirmation that their physician is in fact licensed, and can ask that their physician call the emergency room to avoid overfilled waiting rooms.

If a patient experiences pain, fever or swelling following an operation, he or she can schedule a follow-up with a physician to determine is any equipment was left inside his or her body. Finally, patients can ask about anesthetics that will put them to sleep or if a local anesthetic will work just as well. Patients are certainly not powerless to take steps to avoid egregious cases of medical malpractice.

Source: CNN, "10 Shocking Medical Mistakes", John Bonifield and Elizabeth Cohen, June 10, 2012

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