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Preventing medical errors may be as simple as better listening

Have you ever gone to a medical appointment and felt like your doctor just wasn't listening? Perhaps he looked at your chart while you talked, never glancing up to make eye contact. Maybe he was typing on a computer or frequently interrupted you without letting you finish.

This is normally considered rude, but most of us seem to excuse the behavior in a medical context. After all, doctors are busy people and may not have time for "chatting." But studies have shown that when doctors fail to listen to their patients, there are more than hurt feelings at stake. In fact, the majority of preventable medical errors are caused by miscommunication.

A recent study by Consumer Reports examined the relationship between doctor-patient communication and the risk of medical negligence. According to the study results, about 33 percent of patients surveyed said that medical staff did not always honor their wishes regarding treatment or listen to them without interrupting. About 25 percent of patients said that medical workers sometimes failed to treat them like adults who could be involved in their own care.

Consumer Reports found that the patients who said they "rarely received respect from hospital staff" were also more likely to become victims of a preventable medical error. In fact, their risk was 2.5 times higher than for patients who typically felt respected.

It's true that doctors are busy, and it's also true that they may not need vast amounts of personal information in order to make a correct diagnosis. That being said, assumptions based on too little information can be dangerous. Moreover, doctors may be experts in medicine, but they are not experts when it comes to their patients' bodies.

You know your own body and you can probably sense when a doctor isn't giving you the attention you deserve. In such cases, don't be afraid to speak up. Advocating for yourself and what you need is perhaps the best way to ensure that you don't become a victim of medical malpractice.

Source: Forbes, "Consumer Reports Study: Demanding Respect From Doctors May Save Your Life," Robert J. Szczerba, Jan. 19, 2015

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