A guy walks into the doctorâ€™s office â€¦
While there has been little to laugh about in the healthcare debate, it has caused a spike in jokes on late night television and the Internet. Â Gallows humor, you might say.Â But hereâ€™s something you should know about that is no laughing matter: getting sick (or sicker) as the result of medical treatment, aka iatrogenic illness, is on the rise.Â In 2000, a presidential task force labeled medical errors a â€˜national problem of epidemic proportions,â€™ and put the cost at $29 billion annually. The Institute of Medicineâ€™s report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, released the same year concludes errors during hospitalization kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people each year.
Then there is the problem of antibiotic resistance caused by â€œinappropriate or improper use of antibiotics by physicians,â€ according to Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at NYU Medical Center. Dr Tierno finds that of the 90 million prescriptions written for antibiotics, â€œ50 million are absolutely unnecessary or inappropriate.â€Â Could be why antibiotic-resistant staph (MRSA) is a major problem for hospitals.
So how can you protect yourself?Â Short of taking the approach of a friend of ours who steers clear of hospitals and doctors entirely, you can do two things.Â 1. Make self-care and preserving your health a top priority, and 2. If you need medical care and/or are hospitalized, resist becoming â€œa passive, dependent, childlike person who will not question or oppose authority,â€ says Lawrence LeShan, Ph.D., psychologist, author and pioneer in the psychotherapy of cancer support.
Here are more tips adapted from How to Survive in a Hospital from Dr. LeShan:
Have a friend or relative who can be your advocate (or be an advocate for your hospitalized elder).Â An advocate is someone who is not afraid to make a fuss and ask difficult questions.Â For example:
- Who is the physician overall in charge of the case?Â Make sure that there is someone who has an overview of the patient and the symptoms.
- What is the diagnosis, and how certain of it is the physician?
- What is the usual course of the disease, both with and without therapy?
- What are the side effects of the therapy?
- What alternatives exist?
When tests are prescribed, it will be important to know how painful they will be, what side effects they will have, and most important â€“ whether they will make a difference. Will the physicianâ€™s course of action change depending on the results of the test(s)? If not, there is no reason to proceed.