Three steps to avoid getting bad advice when you call your doctor's office

A pregnant mom in her third trimester feels that her baby isn’t moving as much as normal. She remembers that decreased fetal movement can be an important sign that’s something wrong, so she immediately calls her OB/GYN doctor.

Someone answers the phone. She thinks it’s a nurse. The mother shares her concern that the baby’s not moving so much. The doctor’s office staff member says, “Don’t worry about it. Drink some orange juice and that should wake up the baby.”

The mom drinks some orange juice. The baby’s still not moving much. She calls the doctor’s office and tells the same lady that she’s coming in. When she gets to the office, she’s taken to an examining room, and the doctor hooks her up to an electronic fetal monitoring machine.

The baby is in fetal distress. The doctor sends her to the hospital and says it’s time for an emergency C-Section. It’s not long until the baby is delivered. A beautiful little girl is born into this world with a profound brain injury. The cause? Fetal hypoxia or anoxia, a lack of oxygen that permanently damaged the infant’s brain.

I represented this mom and her husband in a medical malpractice lawsuit against the OB/GYN doctor and her practice group. The bad advice to drink a glass of OJ led to a delay in delivering the baby that would’ve saved the baby from having a brain injury. We won a substantial recovery that helps them take care of their daughter’s many special needs. I enjoy seeing that little girl grow up through her mom’s Facebook posts.

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I know that calls like this happen every day. Patients call their doctors with questions and concerns and often hang up the phone after accepting advice from whomever happens to answer the phone. And sometimes that advice is bogus and even downright life-threatening.

What you can do

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement kicked off a campaign to encourage patients to become a more active part of their own healthcare team. I’m a big fan of this concept, by the way!

When patients are preparing to call or speak with a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider, the Institute recommends being prepared with three questions. They’ve coined the term “Ask Me 3”:

(1) What’s my main problem? Ask questions when calling your doctor’s office or speaking with a healthcare provider. Ask questions when getting ready for a medical test or procedure. Ask questions when you get your medication.

(2) What do I need to do? It’s important to make sure that you understand all instructions. Sometimes physicians and nurses speak over the heads of laypeople. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is new to me. Would you explain that again so I can make sure I understand?”

(3) Why is it important for me to do this? When you understand why they’re asking you to do something, it makes it easier to comprehend and remember.

In addition to being careful to make sure there’s good communication, if you still feel like your condition is going in the wrong direction, don’t be shy about calling your doctor again or going to the office or emergency room to get seen and assessed by a physician.

What doctors should do

The standard of care requires physicians to staff and train personnel who handle patient phone calls. Staff members must be clear about their roles—don’t let patients think they’re speaking with a nurse, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner unless that’s the case.

Procedures should be in place to make sure that patient calls about healthcare concerns are evaluated by a licensed healthcare provider who makes treatment or care decisions, prescriptions, and instructions. The provider or staff member interacting with the patient needs to make sure the patient understands what’s being said. Many experts recommend using the “Ask Me 3” protocol to reinforce the key points.

Both the communications and the recommendations should be carefully documented in the patient’s medical record.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of bad telephone advice from your doctor’s office, a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney can help you evaluate your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.