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What can I ask my doctor to reduce the chances of a medical error?

It may feel awkward to ask health care staff certain questions, but speaking up may help prevent a medical error.

It can be difficult for patients to stand up to their doctors and ask questions that they think may be seen as rude, demanding or ignorant. However, New York residents should realize that by asking the right questions at the right time, they are taking charge of their health and may be doing their part to avert a medical error. The following questions are some of the most useful ones people might ask in a hospital or health care setting, which may help them avoid potentially life-threatening medical professional mistakes.

Have you washed your hands?

This question may be one of the most important ones a patient can ask before a test or medical procedure, according to The Wall Street Journal. Every year, infections acquired in a hospital or medical setting kill almost 100,000 patients across the country, and affect over a million more. Hand-washing can greatly reduce the risk of getting an infection, but studies have shown that hospital personnel wash their hands only about 50 percent of the time. Many patients feel uncomfortable asking their doctors and nurses to wash up, but staff have no doubt been asked this question many times and, in fact, it should be encouraged.

Can I get a second opinion?

This question might sound like patients don't trust their doctors, but there are many instances in which it is perfectly appropriate to bring it up. WebMD states that asking for a second opinion may help patients avoid a missed or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition. It is fine to ask for a second opinion if the patient is facing a serious condition or disease, if the diagnosis is unclear, if the suggested treatment is risky or any other time the patient would feel comfortable consulting a second professional. It is also acceptable to ask for test results and medical records so the other doctor can review the documents.

Can I consult with my surgeon before a procedure?

In many cases, the person performing a surgical procedure is different from the patient's regular doctor. If the surgeon hasn't scheduled a consultation at some point before the surgery, this is something that should be brought up. The following questions are good ones to ask during a surgical consultation:

• Are there other treatment options than this surgery?

• Why do I need this surgery, and what can happen if I don't have the operation?

• What are my risks and complications?

• How long can I expect the benefits to last after the surgery?

• What is the surgeon's experience with this particular procedure?

• What should I expect during my recovery?

Patients should never have to worry about putting doctors on the spot or being ridiculed for their questions. These are inquiries that health care professionals hear on a regular basis. It can help to establish trust and respect between patients and medical staff to ask informed questions and take charge of one's own health care. When a patient is harmed as the result of a medical error, it is important to contact a New York personal injury attorney to discuss possible compensation.

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