Wednesday, March 5, 2008


At the extent of not activating your paranoid buttons, and in the same breath stressing that my intent is NOT to speak poorly about all doctors or the medical profession in general, I want to make you aware of the troubling times we are in. Many of our citizens, young and old alike, are experiencing ‘accidents’ inside of the places where they least expect to be harmed – hospitals. In other words, the places where one should feel the safest are turning out to provide challenges to some people’s health.

These ‘slip ups’ are happening at an alarming rate. Whether through administering the wrong medicine, operating on the wrong limb, removing the wrong organ or giving the wrong advice… today, we have entirely too much ‘bad doctoring’ going around in our hospitals and clinics.

A doctor’s reputation, which should be protected through excellence in practice, is teetering on the edge of something unpleasant. Could it be that this is causing some to lose their respect for those whose job it should be to heal? We already know of other professions which do not have much of a good reputation in this day and age – lawyers, car salesmen, politicians and even mortgage brokers, to name a few. Could some doctors be joining these ranks? Are the media spinning too much about these “medical mistakes” – or should the medical staff guilty of these actions be held more accountable for their actions? Should we hold them at a higher standard?

I remember how doctors used to be respected in the community many moons ago. Even when you asked a child what he or she would have wanted to be when he grew up, a doctor or attorney were usually the two professions that came to mind. Was it because he or she saw them on television in a positive light? Or his or her mother or father spoke so favorably about them? Or maybe the kid had an experience in a hospital that turned out better than anticipated, where the doctor really helped? Or perhaps a family member was one of these authority figures and so they thought it was cool to be one? Yet still, perhaps the child's dad was one of these professionals. Whatever the reason for this respect in the past, doctors seemed to do no wrong in the eyes of many! And really, they shouldn’t...because our lives are in their hands.

Today, it is a whole new ball game. It is generally known that the Hippocratic Oath holds doctors to this tenet first and foremost: “First, do no harm”. So some people may wonder - why are so many now allowing their profession to become enslaved to the almighty pharmaceutical industry, which in turn is pushed forward by some very powerful lobbying? Do the doctors have their hands tied, or do they do this out of free will? Furthermore, are they as ensnared in this complicated system of HMO's and Medicaid and extreme bureaucracy as we all appear to be?

I know quite a few doctors personally, people who are really good doctors, and who I would recommend without forethought to my family and friends. I think these people do a wonderful job. They invest most of their time working hard on their vocation and they really care about their patients - this is something I don’t say lightly, and I mean it.

I also like to ask my doctor friends a lot of questions about some things that rouse my curiosity about their profession. Usually, they tell me that they love my questions, and I really appreciate that they take time to enlighten me on these subjects.

For example, I have often heard that it is very hard to read a doctor’s handwriting. I used to wonder if something like handwriting could cause patients problems. A study was done on this very fact. In a BBC article, The UK’s Medical Defence Union said that difficulties often arose because abbreviations can have more than one meaning or might be misread. This study found out that some patients had the wrong limb removed or operated on and others have been given deadly drug doses. In the same article, it was mentioned that in the U.S. in a particular year – can’t remember offhand – there were 30,000 medical errors, some fatal, and it was concluded that 5% were linked to abbreviations in notes.

An example of this… and I quote the article… was a 62 year old who was being treated for a viral infection with the drug “Acyclovir”. His prescription was written as “acyclovir (unknown dose) with HD”, meaning haemodialysis. Acyclovir should be adjusted for renal impairment and given only once daily. Unfortunately, the prescription was misread as TID (three times daily) and the patient died as a result. (Medical abbreviations ‘pose risk’)

In another article… “We have to become better at learning from these mistakes,” said Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson in response to 250,000 bad drug reactions a year in the U.K. alone. (Drug reactions ‘kill thousands’)

And it is not just that everyday common folks that are at risk either. Saturday night live comedian Dana Carvey, 45 and father of two young kids, was told two months after his double bypass heart operation that the cardiac surgeon bypassed the wrong artery. (Make No Mistake: Medical Errors Can Be Deadly Serious)

What can you do as a consumer and patient? Today, we are in the information age! You have at your finger tips access to more information than ever in the history of the world. There is neither rhyme nor reason for anyone to be misinformed about the health care industry – ‘bad medication’, ‘bad medical procedures’ and ‘bad doctoring’. Each person has to be active in their own health. If you are given medication by your doctor, ask about the many side effects before taking it. If there are side effects, monitor your reactions to the medication.

If you have to take medication, please go online and find out about this drug: (; snoop around to find out if this drug is on the ‘hit list’ of the top ten bad drugs on the market. If your pills have always been one color and all of a sudden they change color, quiz your doctor and/or your pharmacist about this change.

We cannot just sit in idle complacency where our lives are concerned. Sadly, we are putting more emphasis on buying a house and a car than on our health. We go online to look for the best cars – we know all about passenger size, the size of the tires, how many miles to the gallon it goes, the warranty length and all other statistics about our vehicles. We go to housing websites to look at the square footage, number of bedrooms and half baths, and the location of the house. We are concerned about down payment and monthly payment. But our health continues to suffer because we aren’t making the necessary effort to take care of it.

When it comes to our health, we cannot continue to walk around like little children waiting for someone to take care of us. We behave as though we are helpless and we don’t know how to search for this information. Yes, ‘Bad doctoring’ is done by a few bad apples and a few careless doctors. Again, we are not condemning all doctors and all hospitals here. Doctors are an important part of our lives. But at the same time, if we do search consumer guides about cars and houses, we should be more active about our minds and bodies.

So please, Patients Beware!

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