Empowering patients – helping your doctor to help you
Clearly, good records will help your clinician to help you better – whether that be a doctor, nurse, midwife or dentist. We would like to help empower patients who want to take an active role in making sure their records are complete and accurate.
Below we discuss a case study, and provide advice on how you can help your doctor to keep full and accurate records of any medical treatment you receive. Full and accurate records will help your doctor give you the treatment you need, and can help prove your claim in case of negligent treatment.
The claim of Mrs Jacobs
What a patient clearly remembers about what happened in relation to medical treatment may not be accepted by the Court, if the record made by the nurse at the time does not support this – even if the record kept is minimal and only a few words long.
This was the finding of the Court in the case of Mrs Jacobs, who recently lost her claim against the Kings College Hospital NHS Trust.
Mrs Jacobs had a lump in her groin and had surgery to remove it. However, she clearly remembers that after the operation, the lump in her groin was the same as before. She also clearly remembers that she complained about this at the clinic appointment after the operation, but the clinic nurse reassured her and said things would settle down.
At the clinic appointment, the nurse made a very brief entry in the notes that the wound was healing and that there were no problems. The lump did not settle down and Mrs Jacobs subsequently needed further surgery to remove the lump. This time, after the second operation, the lump had gone.
Mrs Jacobs complained that the first operation had been done negligently as it had not removed the lump. As a result, she was forced to undergo a second operation under general anaesthetic, with further pain, more scarring and the need to recover.
The Hospital denied it had failed to remove the lump at the first operation and said that the lump must have been gone at the first clinic appointment, otherwise the nurse would have written in the notes that the lump was still there. The hospital said that the second operation was needed because a new lump had formed in the very same place, which was not the result of negligent care.
The Judge at the trial of the claim, found that if Mrs Jacobs’ memory was correct, then there was negligent surgery, but if the clinic note was correct, then there was no negligence.
Because both parties completely disagreed about what happened at the clinic appointment, the Judge decided to go with the evidence of the Hospital and accept what was recorded in the medical notes, he thus did not accept what Mrs Jacobs told him at the trial. Mrs Jacobs lost her claim.
Patients are at a disadvantage
We feel that it is wrong that a patient is at such a disadvantage as to evidence, when things apparently go wrong. Patients do not control what is recorded in their records about them and don’t normally see what is recorded – so they also don’t have an opportunity to correct any mistakes made in the records.
The way the current system works, means that patients are dependent on the clinician to correctly/fully record what is being said and done.
If all patient encounters were recorded fully and accurately by the clinicians, fine, but this can be far removed from reality.
The problems with incomplete/incorrect records
The case quoted is an example of the problems a patient can face as a result of incomplete or incorrect entries made in their medical records, when they want to make a claim for negligent care.
Other problems may occur, including:
- If the records do not fully set out what the patient’s problems are, the next doctor who sees the patient does not have all the information needed to make the correct diagnosis and give the correct treatment.
- If the records are incorrect/incomplete about the patient’s problems, a patient may be referred to the wrong specialist, resulting in delays in treatment.
- If the records are incorrect/incomplete, a patient who is deteriorating may not be seen quickly enough and treatment to improve the symptoms may not be provided in time.
Doctors and nurses are imperfect, like all of us. They therefore need help in creating complete and correct records, and so achieve the best medical outcomes for their patients.
Needless to say, we hope that things go right for patients when they need medical treatment, but if something does go wrong then our help to you in making a compensation claim will also be made much easier if the records are complete and correct.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR DOCTOR HELP YOU
To help improve the quality of your records, you could consider doing any (or all) of the following:
Ask your doctor to copy you in on each and every letter they send about your care to others. You will need to mention this to the receptionist when you book in at the surgery or hospital at your next visit and ask them to update your details to make sure all letters are copied to you.
If you keep all these letters on file, you have a note of what is going on. You can use this for your next appointment and you can also see if what your doctor writes about your symptoms is correct or not.
If you have any concerns or want to discuss specific problems with your GP/Hospital Doctor/Nurse/Dentist, write an email/letter to them with your symptoms and questions before your next appointment. You can obtain the email address from them or their secretaries by phoning up and asking for it, before your appointment. This way, your clinician has a chance to look at your records before your appointment and see if there is anything of relevance that might help them in diagnosing and treating your problem. It is also less likely that you will forget to mention any of your symptoms or to address all of your questions at the upcoming appointment.
You need to make sure to keep a copy of anything you send and any response you receive, on your file.
If you are concerned about the way a wound looks, about a skin mark, or about the colour of your leg for instance, take a picture of it (and of the other side for comparison) so you can show your clinician. You can help to demonstrate the size of your wound by putting a 20p coin next to it in the photograph.
If you send the photo to your clinician (by email, together with a list of your symptoms and concerns), they may be able to bring forward your appointment if necessary. Most people can take pictures with their mobile phones and again you should keep them on record for your own file. You can also take a photograph on the days following the first one, so you can show your clinician any changes (for better or worse) that may occur.
More and more people video record parts of their lives, be it car journeys, holidays or social events. Recording a discussion with your doctor or nurse can be really helpful in allowing a patient to replay what was said and done afterwards, so as to make sure all information has come across and to allow any advice to be listened to again.
This can be in relation to an appointment in a hospital clinic, at your surgery, in the A&E department or while an in-patient in hospital.
We recommend you tell your clinician that you are recording the discussion and that you keep a copy of the recording afterwards, for your file.