US government studies have shown there are over 400,000 preventable deaths per year caused by medical and hospital errors. There are also many, many more patients who undergo needless suffering and disability from the same carelessness. What can you do to protect your loved ones? After 40 years of suing hospitals and doctors for injuring newborns, children and adults some safety lessons have become apparent. Here are some steps you can take to help lessen the risk of becoming a victim of negligent health care:

  1. Do not select your primary doctor at random from a list provided by your health insurance carrier or websites or advertising
  2. When selecting a doctor or hospital, get a referral from people you trust; you might ask other professionals like your dentist or eye doctor or knowledgeable family members
  3. Check the training of your doctor. Did he or she attend a United States medical school internship and residency?
  4. Check for lawsuits against your doctor with the California Medical Board at: www.mbc.ca.gov.
  5. Check if your doctor is board certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties: www.abms.org
  6. If your doctor’s diagnosis or recommended treatment concerns you, get a second opinion. You may have to pay, but for safety and reassurance purposes it’s worth it
  7. If imaging studies such as CT, MRI, Xray are performed, obtain a digital copy on a DVD or CD for yourself and keep it
  8. If a pathology sample has been taken of any worrisome problem, an irregular mole for example, get a second pathology opinion

All health care providers are definitely not created equal. Problems we have seen over the years include (1) doctors who have a very high volume practice and spend little time with the patient; (2) doctors whose clinical judgment is flawed because of poor training and poor continuing education; (3) hospitals share some of these problems as well. It is safer going to the large medical centers associated with universities than it is going to your local community hospital. Don’t believe the website public relations of hospitals — do your own checking.