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Protect yourself from medical errors

A recently published article in the British Medical Journal showed that drug errors in Britain were the most common cause of medical malpractice claims. First thing that popped into my mind is, “Gee I didn’t know the Brits sued their docs. Maybe we got the habit from them?”

But seriously, drug errors are a significant source of medical error in this country, too. I suggest you protect yourself by taking three simple steps.

1. When you go to your doctor, bring your pills with you: Make sure your doctor knows what you’re taking and not taking. Way too often people say, “Yes I’m taking it.” But when you question them, they often answer, “But I haven’t taken it for a few months.” Be specific when you review your medications.

2. Read your records: Anyone who has visited a doctor’s office recently knows the computerized record is alive and well. Whenever you get this printout from your doctor, it’s important that you take it home, read it and correct any mistakes, especially when it comes to your list of medications.

Double checking this is like double checking your credit card bill or your checking account. It reduces error. Sometimes I think we spend more time looking at a menu at that Friday fish fry than we spend thinking about our health.

3. Travel planning: Keep a copy of your medications list with you when you’re traveling. Taking a paper copy is fine, but it’s too often out of date. Step up to the 21st century with an electronic copy of your health records. With a click of a mouse or a touch on your smart phone you have 24/7 access to crucial medical data that might help you if you land in an emergency room in another state. If you don’t know how to accomplish this, ask at your doctor’s office.

A couple of years ago, I broke my ankle hiking in California. When the ER doctor asked when my last blood test was, I whipped out my iPhone and showed it to her. Way cool. Way efficient.

If you’re not online with this phenomenal program, take action. We docs have been talking about portable records – it’s not the future, it’s here now.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.

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