Many people are paralyzed by the thought of medical malpractice. Doctors and nurses — some of the most respected members of our society — are there to help and heal us. They come into our lives when we need assistance, and we place our trust in their judgment and skill.
But, what happens when something goes terribly wrong?
There are several steps you should take if you suspect you or a loved one have become a victim of medical malpractice:
1. Ask LOTS of questions. This advice actually applies to all interactions with medical professionals, because the more informed you are about your own health, the more likley it is you will understand the treatment being provided to you. Don’t be afraid to tell a doctor or nurse you don’t understand the technical terms being used. Ask specific questions about your diagnosis and prognosis, and inquire about all alternative treatments that are available to you. Ask your doctor or nurse directly if something went wrong. Although you may not get a straight answer, it never, ever hurts to ask. Knowledge is power, and when you are talking about your health, you want to be the most powerful person in the room.
2. Take LOTS of notes. It is hard to remember everything that happens, especially if you are sick for a long period of time and are under substantial stress. Take notes yourself or have a loved one keep an ongoing diary. If you are in the hospital, write down the names of each and every nurse, aid, doctor and resident who comes into your room with a brief description of what each person did and said. Remember, however, to show discretion. Ultimately your health and recovery are the most important things, and you don’t want to create any unnecessary tension. Some health professionals may become anxious if you are taking notes each time they treat you, and preoccupation with notetaking can distract you from paying close attention to what the doctors and nurses are actually doing and saying. The primary purpose of taking notes is to help you remember what happened down the road, but getting better is certainly a much more important goal.
3. Research. Gone are the days when medical knowledge is held by those with years of training. The internet is full of very good resources about all types of medical conditions. I generally start with an organic google search then look on you tube to see if any videos are posted about the condition I am researching. I have assembled several very useful compendiums on various medical conditions, and you are welcome to contact me at the email address below to see if I have anything that is helpful for you.
4. Request your medical records. You generally want to wait until you have made substantial recovery before requesting your records. To request records, simply call or go to the medical records department at the hospital or office where you were treated and request copies. ALWAYS GIVE A DATE BY WHICH YOU EXPECT TO RECEIVE THEM! Even though most records are kept electronically these days, records offices often wait weeks or even months to provide them. If the date you gave comes and goes and you have not received the records, call or go to the office immediately and request them again. In New York state it costs $0.75/page for each page of records, but providers are not allowed to withhold them solely on the basis of your inability to pay.
5. Call a malpractice attorney. Ultimately this is the best way to find out if you actually have been the victim of malpractice. I screen many, many potential medical malpractice cases each year, and even though Ziff Law only excepts a few due to a variety of reasons, I am usually able to give the potential client a good sense of whether or not has been victimized.
The bottom line is that you have a right to know what happened. By taking these steps you may be able to finally get some answers.
Thanks for reading.
Christina Bruner Sonsire, Esq.
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, New York 14902-1338
Toll-Free: 800.ZIFFLAW (943.3529)