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Medical Malpractice - Avoid Being a Victim

Updated on November 22, 2009
Investigate Your Physician's Credentials
Investigate Your Physician's Credentials

Physicians and other allied health care providers (nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, and technicians) are only human; they make mistakes. Unfortunately, when they do, the consequences can be devastating if it harms the patient or hinders a successful recovery. Medical errors and accidents also occur in hospitals where management fails to implement exacting standards to prevent them. Medical malpractice injuries are the result.

Even if you hear of people being awarded millions of dollars for medical malpractice injuries, you do not want to “strike it rich” this way. Your health is far more important. One of the best ways to avoid being a victim of medical malpractice is to investigate the quality and competence of a prospective physician and the hospital where you may be treated before you need them.

Investigate Your Physician's Background

Investigate your prospective physician’s background, education, certifications, licensing, and any other news good or bad. Some useful sites:

  • HealthGrades lets you look up reports and ratings on every practicing physician, dentist, hospital, and nursing home in the United States. Each physician "profile" includes his or her medical training, specialty, years of experience, board certification. Information on past or pending medical malpractice claims against the physician, disciplinary actions, and the physician's hospital affiliations are also available. The site includes general “customer satisfaction” scores based on actual patient surveys. Physicians receiving top scores are identified as "Five-Star Doctors" and "Recognized Doctors". You must sign and and pay a fee to download reports from this site.
  • RateMDs is a similar site with physician ratings made by actual patients. It also helps you file a complaint with your state's medical board, rate your own physician, search for doctors in your area, and look up disciplinary actions against physicians. Information is available on physicians located throughout the United States and also Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and India. RateMDs is a free site.

Check for Board Certification

Find out if your prospective physician is Board Certified. The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) is a non-profit, independent organization that evaluates physicians specializing in internal medicine and evaluates their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. While many practicing physicians apply, only one out of three in the United States receives the ABIM certification. The ABIM’s sister organization, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), is comprised of 24 medical specialty boards including anesthesiology, family medicine, pediatrics, and surgery. Certification by any of the medical boards involves rigorous testing and peer evaluation, and is considered the “gold standard” among MDs in the United States.

"Bedside manner" is important too.
"Bedside manner" is important too.

Interview your Prospective Physician

Interview your prospective doctor or visit him the first time for a minor matter; you don’t want to select a new physician when you have a serious medical problem and don’t have time to investigate him thoroughly. Get a feel for his “bedside manner”. Do you have a good rapport? Does she seem competent and ask you the right questions? Does she make you feel comfortable and confident? Many physicians, especially Board Certified MDs, are highly competent. But a relationship of trust between patient and physician is also highly important for a satisfactory medical outcome.

Investigate the Hospital

Investigate the hospital where the prospective physician has staff privileges. Your physician may be highly skilled and not make errors, but patient falls, medication errors, and hospital-spread infections are among the most common causes of medical malpractice claims; problems typically controlled by hospital policy, not the direct oversight of the physician. Consequently, you want to know the hospital measures up.

Find out if the hospital is JCAHO accredited. JCAHO, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, sets standards for medical care providers and awards accreditation to those that meet or exceed the standards. Winning and maintaining accreditation through JACHO is a rigorous, ongoing process because JACHO performs periodic, on-site surveys to ensure hospitals continue to comply with standards AND make efforts to improve. JACHO has developed state-of-the-art medical service delivery and quality assurance programs so an accredited hospital is more apt to be at the forefront of patient care than one that is not.

Investigate the Hospital
Investigate the Hospital

Review the quality assurance program

Ask to review a copy of the hospital’s quality assurance programs. You probably won’t want to read these, but at least take a look at the Table of Contents. You should see topics such as “Infection Control”, “Staffing”, “Patient Fall Protection”, “Medication Protocols”, and highly detailed guidelines or policies to be followed during every medical procedure performed in the facility.

Ask for the hospital’s nurse to patient ratio. In California the minimum ratios are 1 RN for every 5 patients in general medical or post-surgical units; 1:4 in pediatrics, and 1:4 in emergency rooms. The ratios differ for other specialty care units, but keep in mind these are the minimum requirements. Proper staffing ratios are important to ensure nurses are not rushed or overworked; those are the time mistakes occur.

If you are really a stickler, ask about the hospital's equipment preventive maintenance program. Medical care providers place enormous reliance on the monitors, meters, and instruments they use to analyze, diagnose, and provide treatment. What is their inspection and maintenance schedule? Do licensed and skilled contractors perform the work? Are laboratory and diagnostic instruments calibrated regularly?

Do Your Homework

If you do your homework you can make a better informed decision when selecting the general practitioner or specialist who is right for you and your family. Selecting a skilled and experienced physician who has privileges at a top-notch hospital will help you avoid medical malpractice mistakes that could lead to serious injuries, missed diagnoses, medication errors, or other tragic mishaps.


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      Melanie 3 years ago

      All 50 states reqiure that physician assistants complete an accredited, formal PA program before embarking on a physician assistant career. These programs usually last at least 2 years, and include instruction in biochemistry, pathology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, disease prevention, and medical ethics. A PA program will also include supervised clinical training opportunities in several areas of medicine through various rotations.