I’ve worked in the healthcare industry for over 18 years and believe me, I’ve seen some sh-, err, stuff.
It was early in my nursing career when I realized that the healthcare system harbors a lot of secrets it hopes patients won’t find out about.
The first clue came when I was a new nurse working in an ICU. One of my patients, a 32-year-old woman with cancer, had complications during surgery to remove a tumor. The surgeon accidentally nicked an artery causing significant bleeding. I was discreetly told that the patient and family were not to know about this “mishap.” In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to know about it. The information was leaked to me by a colleague who assisted during the operation.
The young woman ended spending an extra two weeks in the ICU as a result of this surgeon’s mistake. A mistake he consciously, and unethically, chose not to disclose. When I spoke to the patient and her family, I suggested they get a copy of the medical records and ask more questions as to why she experienced so much bleeding. (This same surgeon, by the way, told the patient to stop crying while he was speaking).
I am ashamed to say I never reported the incident. It took me a long time to gain the confidence I needed to speak up when I knew something wasn’t right.
This is just one of many examples of how patients are being hoodwinked when it comes to their medical care. And why I am passionate about helping you understand more about what goes on behind closed doors in the healthcare system-the good, the bad and the ugly.
Here are a few secrets that the healthcare industry hopes you won’t find out about.
1. If a Medical Error Happens to You, Chances Are You Won’t Be Told About It
An estimated 250,000 Americans die every year from medical errors. If you’re the victim of a medical mistake, chances are you’ll never know about it. A Commonwealth Fund survey found that 75% of U.S. patients weren’t told about errors made by their providers.
Medical errors are largely preventable. If nurses and doctors aren’t afraid to speak up when they know something isn’t right, then mistakes are less likely to happen and can be prevented in the future.
The best thing you can do to prevent medical errors is to be actively involved in your healthcare. Educate yourself about your conditions and treatments, ask lots of questions and always get a copy of your medical records. If a complication occurs during any of your treatments, ask point-blank if it was due to an error.
2. It’s Likely You’re Getting Tests, Treatments or Procedures You Don’t Need
And they may cause harm or cost you a lot of money. A report by the Washington Health Alliance found that more than 600,000 patients underwent a treatment they didn’t need at a cost of $282 million.
Some providers get perks and ‘kickbacks’ from pharmaceutical and medical device companies. If your provider is incentivized to do more, this may increase the chances of you getting treatments or medications you don’t really need. Check how much your provider has received from the drug and medical device using ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs tool.
Keep in mind, some tests and procedures ARE necessary. And most doctors and nurses want to do what’s right for you. Make the decision together using this checklist.
3. Doctors Who Have Surrendered Their Licenses for Misconduct in One State May Practice Freely In Other States
If doctors have been accused of misconduct in one state, they can surrender their license and move to another state to practice. Some states do their due diligence to prevent this from happening. But some don’t bother.
When choosing physicians or physician assistants, have a look at the Federation of State Medical Boards to access their credentials and potential disciplinary actions. To look up nurse practitioners check out the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Don’t be afraid to ask your providers directly if they have ever surrendered or lost their license in another state.
4. Hospital Rankings Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be
Consider this. Big-name rating systems for hospitals such as U.S. News & World Report, HealthGrades and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have distinctly different “best of” lists. For instance, Mayo Clinic is the only hospital to receive a five-star rating from CMS and be listed as a ‘Top 5’ hospital by U.S. News & World Report. The other four ‘top’ hospitals (Cleveland Clinic, Massachusetts General, UCLA Medical Center, and Johns Hopkins) didn’t even make CMS’ top 100 list.
In a New York Times article, Dr. Nicholas Osborne, a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan, stated, “Those ratings have become more important for hospital marketing than for actually helping patients find the best care.”
My advice when choosing a hospital? First, ask around. Get opinions from family, friends and your primary care provider. And, if you can, talk to people who work there to get an insider’s point of view. Also, consider your condition and the treatments you need. Some hospitals are better than others at treating certain illnesses or conditions.
- Medical errors happen frequently and most patients will never know if one happens to them. Ask lots of questions if something has gone wrong during one of your treatments.
- Unnecessary tests, treatments, and procedures are costly and may even be harmful. Ask these questions before you say yes.
- Choose your doctors carefully. Even if they have a clean slate in one state, they may have a bad record in another.
- Don’t rely solely on hospital rankings when choosing a hospital-they aren’t entirely objective. Ask around when choosing a hospital and make use of several comparison tools.
I hope this article has helped you understand why it’s so important to take charge of your own care and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
Have a question for me? Or want to share your experience with the healthcare system?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d love to hear from you!