Medical errors are one of the leading causes of death and injury for American adults, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine. A medical error can occur when something that was planned for medical care doesn't work, or when the wrong plan was used in the first place, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
While hospitals, doctors, and government agencies are working to decrease errors, there is much parents can do to protect their children from dangerous medical errors.
It's important for parents to be involved, ask questions, and educate themselves about their child's conditions and treatments. They can play a significant role in protecting their child's health and life.
Learn about your child's illness, especially if he or she has a chronic condition, like asthma. Several sites that provide accurate information include Healthfinder, the consumer site for the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Medical Home Portal, American Academy of Pediatrics.
Mention your child's drug allergies every time he or she is prescribed or given a medication in a doctor's office or hospital. Also mention your child's other medical problems and ask if the medication is OK to take with other prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and alternative remedies.
Find a health care provider you trust. Ask for recommendations from friends and coworkers who are on your health plan. Seek a second opinion on your child's diagnosis and treatment if you think your child isn't being cared for correctly. This can be either another pediatrician or a specialist.
Make sure all your child's providers know all the medications the child takes. This includes prescription and OTC medicines, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other alternative remedies.
When you pick up your child's medicine from the pharmacy, ask, "Is this the medicine my child's doctor prescribed?" Most medicine errors involve the wrong drug or the wrong dose.
Ask that information about your child's medicines be given to you in terms you can understand—both when the medicines are prescribed and when you receive them at the hospital or pharmacy. Know the name of the medicine, what it's for, how much your child should take, and how often. Also know the likely side effects, for example, if it's safe for the child to take it with other medicines, and what food, drink, or activities the child should avoid while taking this medicine.
If you have any questions about the directions on your child's medicine labels, ask. Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For example, ask if four doses daily means taking a dose every six hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.
Ask your pharmacist for the best way to measure your child's liquid medicine. You shouldn't use household teaspoons for measuring medications, for instance, because they often don't hold a true teaspoon of liquid.
Ask your child's provider if the treatment is based on the latest scientific evidence.
Make sure you know who is in charge of your child's care. This is especially important if your child has many health problems or is in the hospital.
If your child is having surgery, make sure you, the child's doctor, and the surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done. And choose a hospital where many children have the same surgery, as the doctors and staff will have more experience with the unique needs of children. While the child is hospitalized, make sure he or she always wears an identification bracelet.
When your child is discharged from the hospital, ask the doctor to explain how to care for him or her at home. This includes learning about your child's medicines and finding out when he or she can get back to regular activities.
Make sure all health professionals involved in your child's care in the hospital have important information, such as whether the child has drug allergies or a chronic condition. Don't assume the doctor or nurse knows everything he or she needs to know.