Medical negligence is a leading cause of avoidable death in the U.S. The legal definition of Medical malpractice, or medical negligence as it is sometimes called, is when a healthcare practitioner, in providing care and treatment to a patient, deviates from what a reasonable health care practitioner, with a similar background and training, would do under similar circumstances. Common medical errors include failing to timely diagnose a condition, failing to appropriately treat a condition, unnecessary surgeries, or failing to inform a patient of all the potential risks of a surgery, medication errors, and avoidable infections or complications.

Lets get one thing straight at the outset: The vast majority of doctors and nurses do tremendous work and care deeply about their patients. However, like any other profession, be it a financial advisor, accountant, lawyer or even a priest, mistakes are made. Complicating the situation is the trend towards hyper specialization in medicine. Our parents may have had a doctor that took care of the kids and grandma, delivered the babies and took out dad’s appendix. Over the last generation, as medical technology and knowledge have increased, so has specialization in medicine. Not only do you see an oncologist for cancer, but you may see a nuclear oncologist that has dedicated his or her entire career to dealing with the specific type of malignant cells you are dealing with. This type of hyper specialization has allowed us to benefit from having doctors that have an incredible wealth of knowledge with a particular issue. The problem with such an approach is that each doctor seeing the patient is so focused on his or her limited area of expertise that no one is stepping back and looking at the big picture. When a patient presents with a complicated medical condition someone needs to be the quarterback and guide the overall treatment for this patient.

The health care industry has recognized this risk and we now have a medical specialty called “Hospitalists”. The idea is that the Hospitalist is a doctor who should be overseeing the care of the patient in a hospital setting and managing the specialists as well as all of the other treatment being provided by the hospital. When you have a loved one in the hospital make sure you know which doctor is in charge of his overall care and don’t be afraid of asking questions. Many people (other than my children) have a natural tendency to defer to authority figures. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions about your loved one’s condition, care and treatment. Being in a hospital is a critical situation and as much as we want to believe that those in charge of the care are making the right calls, you need to speak up for yourself and be your own advocate. Educate yourself online about the condition and treatment options and don’t be shy. If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself seek out the help of a friend or family member.

You should be respectful of the informed medical decisions made by the doctors caring for you and your family but you have the right to ask questions and be informed. Be your own advocate.