If you wind up in an emergency room this holiday season, get a family member to the hospital ASAP. Why? Simple. You need an advocate in your corner. Not a lawyer, but someone who will ask questions; someone who will questions the nurses and doctors about your condition, your medications and your treatment.

For every medication you are prescribed and given by a nurse, LOOK at each pill and ask what dose it is. Prescription and pharmacy errors happen all too often. Asking is the first step in preventing prescription errors.

Many young doctors who treat you during the day and late at night are doctors-in-training, also known as interns or residents. These young physicians are supposed to be working under the supervision of senior attending physicians. The problem is that many times, these inexperienced doctors do not seek the guidance and assistance of those more experienced doctors when dealing with medical and surgical problems. If there is a question about the treatment you are receiving and are not getting satisfactory answers from the resident, ask for and demand to speak to the senior resident and/or senior attending physician.
If you need surgery, find out whether it will be the resident performing your surgery or a senior attending physician, or both. Incidentally, the worst time to be a patient in a hospital is typically in the beginning of July. Why? The new batch of interns (first year doctor-in-training) begin their training programs on July 1 throughout the United States. They’re right out of medical school and the least experienced of the bunch.

Upon discharge from the hospital, make sure you UNDERSTAND your discharge instructions. Many people simply sign the forms and want to bolt out of the hospital as soon as possible. That’s understandable but make sure you have asked all follow-up questions regarding your medications, your continuing treatment and any follow-up care you may need.

Hopefully you won’t need this information, but if you do, it should help minimize the chance that you will be a medical malpractice victim this holiday season.