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Doctor: Medical error prevention can begin in medical school

The solution to reducing medical errors may begin in medical school. That's the assertion of one pediatric geneticist who has taught and practiced medicine for several decades.

He believes that all medical students should be required to earn risk management certificates by examination to complete their residencies. Then, he says, they should be required to take risk management exams online each time they renew their licenses. That's generally at least every five years.

This emphasis on risk management would help make doctors (and future doctors) more aware of how medical errors occur so that they're better equipped to avoid them. The most common type of medical error involves diagnoses. Diagnostic errors make up 30 percent of all medical mistakes.

Most medical errors are unintentional and are, in fact, made by good doctors. The geneticist, who calls these errors a "national crisis," notes that "slips, lapses [and] fumbles" often occur because doctors are preoccupied, careless and sometimes simply lazy.

Of course, patients have to be able to trust their doctors. However, they can take preventative steps to help ensure that such unintentional errors don't occur — whether they are in a doctor's office or at a hospital. By bringing along a family member or friend to any medical visit or procedure, you can help ensure that all of your questions are answered and have another set of eyes to watch what is being done.

It's also essential to know what you should expect. If the doctor is doing tests, what will those tests determine? When can you expect to learn the results?

Doctors have to manage a multitude of patients, but patients and their family members need to also be advocates. That includes learning what legal recourse you have if you believe that you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice by a physician or other medical professional.

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