The doctor may not always know best–That’s what patient advocates and pharmacology experts, Joe and Teresa Graedon, have learned in their many years in the field, both from personal experiences and patient’s accounts. They sit down with us to talk about the most common medical mistakes that doctors make and how you can protect yourself and your health:
Books for Better Living(BBL): You begin the book with a startling statistic: at least 500,000 Americans die each year because of medical mistakes. Do you think the healthcare industry will ever have the same level of accountability as other American institutions?
Joe & Teresa Graedon: Until now the death toll from healthcare has largely gone under the radar. There is no mandatory reporting system for mistakes made in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient surgical centers or doctors’ offices. We hope our book will raise awareness and lead to increased reporting and accountability. Ultimately we hope screwups will be reduced.
BBL: Discuss the personal story that was the inspiration for this book. How did you manage to get past your anger over the way Joe’s mom suffered in her final hours? How did you find the courage to channel it into something positive?
J&TG: We have devoted our careers to trying to prevent the drug interactions and healthcare harm for others, so it was especially painful to realize that we could not protect someone we loved. We were shocked and saddened to realize how many errors came together to cause her horrible death. Joe’s mother could not tolerate narcotics. Her medical chart stated that clearly. Nevertheless, she was given Demerol (a narcotic) that led to serotonin syndrome, a condition that contributed to her death. Our goal has never been to punish the healthcare system but rather to honor her memory by trying to make it safer.
BBL: What are the most important changes you hope will come from this book?
J&TG: We hope health professionals in training and in practice, as well as patients and their families, will begin to recognize the scope of the problem. Ultimately, we hope that healthcare harm will be greatly diminished. In the meantime, we want patients and their loved ones to take immediate action to protect themselves against screwups. That is why we have provided so many tips to detect errors and prevent them from causing harm.
BBL: What are the top screwups doctors make?
J&TG: Not listening to patients; missing the diagnosis; not telling patients about complications of therapy; not addressing side effects; ignoring scientific evidence; overtreating; overlooking drug interactions; stubbornly sticking to a plan that is not working; losing lab results; not helping people make critical lifestyle changes.
BBL: How has technology helped and harmed patients in the twenty-first century?
J&TG: Technology has provided powerful diagnostic tools. When used appropriately they can reduce diagnostic errors, which have remained far too common for decades. If overused, however, CT scans and other technologies can lead to excessive radiation and patient harm or death. Electronic medical records and prescribing can reduce errors, but when drug interaction alerts are overridden (a frequent occurrence), patients are put in harms way. Internet searches help patients and families find critical health information to guide treatment, but there is also much misleading information online.
BBL: You cover prescription drug dangers throughout this book. How does Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them complement your People’s Pharmacy books?
J&TG: Ever since the first People’s Pharmacy book we have been warning people about drug side effects and drug interactions. This book reinforces that message because the problems have intensified with more numerous and more powerful medications. Doctors and pharmacists are so busy they rarely have adequate time to listen to patients’ reports of side effects, check on deadly interactions or counsel patients about optimal use.
BBL: You include many troubling, true stories of tragedies caused by medical errors. Were you able to discover these stories through the media, or were many of them unpublicized?
J&TG: The stories in our book come largely from the readers of our books and newspaper columns, visitors to our website and listeners to our syndicated radio show. Other stories have been documented in the medical literature. They provide a human face to the horrifying statistics we have uncovered.
BBL: How has your perspective on prescription medication changed since you first became patient advocates?
J&TG: We have discovered that a surprising number of medications are less effective than most patients or their prescribers realize. Adverse drug events are common and may be more dangerous than most imagine. Drug interactions remain a deadly threat to patient well being.
BBL: You report that even though America’s elderly population is growing, interest in geriatric medicine is shrinking. What can we do to reverse this trend? What special eldercare needs are addressed in your book?
J&TG: “Brain fog” is a common complication of many medications that are frequently prescribed for older people. Memory loss and confusion are too often chalked up to aging rather than medications. Studies show that half of older people are taking drugs that are often inappropriate and contribute to mental decline.
BBL: What are the most common mistakes patients make? What is your top call to action for patients?
J&TG: Passivity is the top screwup patients make. They need to verify that their healthcare providers understand all their symptoms and are addressing their concerns. Patients (and their advocates) need to be proactive in detecting mistakes before they can cause harm. Patients and families must be full partners on the healthcare team to reduce the risk of harm.
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