When under medical care, you are putting your health and even your life in the hands of the medical professionals treating you – as well as their support teams. Think of all that is involved – assessment, tests, diagnosis, treatment. Most of us simply accept what our physician tells us and follow the treatment recommendations that are made. And, usually, that results in a positive outcome and we feel (and are) healthier and better.
But, what do you do when you don’t improve, or the treated condition worsens and causes further harm? What do you do when a loved one unexpectedly dies while under someone’s care? It’s at those times one starts to reflect and ask difficult questions. Was the diagnosis accurate? Were the correct tests performed? Was there a problem with the treatment prescribed or how care was administered? Was a mistake made? In such cases, many are reluctant to question a doctor or medical professional because they are considered experts and are supposed to fix you, not make you worse. This should not stop you. While there has been disagreement within the medical community of exactly how many patients are impacted by errors or neglect in treatment, it is not disputed that missteps in medical care account for a significant number of injuries and deaths every year.
So, what should be your first steps when you do have questions or concerns regarding the quality of medical care? If care is still ongoing, consider changing doctors. Before you decide on a new provider, though, do your research. Are they board certified? The Federation of State Medical Boards makes their physician database available to patients through their docinfo.org site. You may also want to check with your insurance company to determinate if the new provider is covered under your plan and the new provider’s office for appointment availability and timing.
Make detailed notes as soon as possible. Specifics blur with time. Noting symptoms, treatment, and what’s happening, including dates and times, will be invaluable in making your case. Also include the time you’re spending on treatment, and any impact on your ability to work or your everyday life. Even before an issue arises, if you or your loved one has been diagnosed with a serious condition or is hospitalized, a care journal can be extremely helpful in assessing care and navigating what can be a difficult time.
Don’t wait to contact an attorney before asking for your medical records. Request records as soon as you suspect something may be wrong. You are authorized to receive a copy of all your medical records. There’s no need to provide a justification or explain why you want your records. In fact, it’s best that you don’t. If a loved one has died, there are different requirements for obtaining records through the person or executor the individual has named to handle their estate. (Massachusetts gives guidance here.)
It can be very frustrating and upsetting to find yourself or a loved one negatively impacted by quality of medical care. By all means, ask questions and voice any concerns, but avoid the urge to confront or forecast any intent to file a malpractice claim. Your first focus should be on how best to address any ongoing care needs and then to gather information and records. Medical malpractice is a complex and involved area. You will want to consult an attorney experienced in medical malpractice to discuss your concerns and assess your case. If you proceed with a claim, your attorney should handle all communications. And, by all means keep any discussion of care concerns or a potential lawsuit off social media. Your comments could be used in court.
We hope you will never need to use this advice. However, should you suspect medical error or neglect, knowing the positive steps you can take will help you or your loved one take control of a difficult situation.