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As my regular subscribers know, I have been involved as a researcher and ghostwriter for a fabulous (of course!) book due to be released in the Spring of 2013 that for the moment we’ll just call Inside Medical Malpractice.  In that role, over the last eight months or so I have become something of an expert on the current literature on the state of American healthcare.  So for my busy readers, let me cut to the chase and simply say, get out your credit card and order The Life You Save . . . from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your favorite bookseller, but do it now.  Get a copy for yourself, and get a copy for your grown children with a mandate to actually read it.  It will make a superb Christmas gift for anyone you care deeply about, including any who are healthcare practitioners themselves.  And no, I’m not connected to any of the beneficiaries of this enthusiastic endorsement, including the author.

So what’s this all about?  It is not my nature to gush or engage in hyperbole.  What’s up with my enthusiasm for  The Life You Save . . . ?  The shortest and straightest answer is in the title itself—this book is about saving your own life when it comes your time to enter the healthcare system for anything more serious than the common cold.

A few weeks ago I recommended How We Do Harm—A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America, by Dr. Otis Brawley, Executive Vice President of the American Cancer Society.  In my review of Dr. Brawley’s excellent book (you can read it here: I recommended this book as a wake-up call to naïve Americans who enter the healthcare system with an unwarranted confidence that they will be treated competently and with reasonable expectations of a happy outcome.  Dr. Brawley lays it all out with well-documented information about how broken, chaotic, and fragmented our system is, and how frequently patient safety is the last priority of the stakeholders in the system.

More recently I recommended Unaccountable—What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, by Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  You can read this review here: Dr. Makary’s book focuses on the culture of cover-up in the medical profession, and the intentional code of silence about mistakes, negligence, and incompetence.  He talks about how difficult it is for a patient to discover the safety track record of any institution or doctor, and Dr. Makary has excellent suggestions and comments about a ground swell of interest inside and outside the profession to clean it up and make it safer and more honest for the patient.  He makes the profound point that meaningful change will not happen unless we demand it, push for it, insist on it.

Then comes The Life You Save:  Nine Steps  to Finding the Best Care—and Avoiding the Worst.  The author, Patrick Malone, is a very successful medical malpractice attorney who has had clients all over the country.  His book, however, is not about medical malpractice, and his book is not some ill-disguised attempt to promote his legal practice.  This book is very simply a down-to-earth and comprehensive Survival Guide to coming out of the healthcare system unharmed and unscathed.  This book has valuable checklists for everything, from things to ask your family doctor; steps to take to find a competent doctor; checklists for safe surgery; the red flags that tell you to run like hell from someone you thought was a competent physician; how to become better informed about your prescription drugs; how to evaluate recommended treatments, procedures, and tests; how to avoid infection in hospitals; and how to evaluate hospitals, departments in hospitals, and the presence or absence of a patient-safety culture within the hospital or department you will be using.

Believe me, this guy knows what he is talking about.  For those who have a false sense of security by relying on federal and state regulatory agencies, Mr. Malone exposes the limitations and conflicts of interest that can cripple the effectiveness of these organizations.  He gets behind the statistics, and explains in simple street language what those horrifying prognoses really mean—and don’t mean, when the doctor tells you what your survival chances are, or how long you have to live.

Author Malone makes the point that we should not, as patients, have to go to such lengths to assure ourselves of being given competent, attentive care, but unfortunately when it comes to patient safety, American healthcare has only moved the space of a few inches on a journey of miles.  We have to become responsible for ourselves, which from my view on the bench, is not such a bad habit to cultivate anyway.  Because when you are sick it is often beyond your capabilities to be alert and assertive, it is essential that every one of us know someone who can go with us to our appointments, stay with us in the hospital, including overnight, and, oh, by the way, our friend needs to have big kahunas.  The healthcare system is not likely to pay much attention to someone without assertiveness, the ability to speak up and be firm.  The hospital is the last place to be intimidated, or in awe, of your healthcare providers.  These people are made of the same dirt as everyone else.  They have bad days, they suffer lapses of attention, they have other things on their mind, they have egos, they have wrong-headed financial incentives, they have attitudes, some of them are substance abusers, and some of them shouldn’t be practicing medicine at all.  With some of them, that is precisely the problem—they are practicing medicine.  As long as they are practicing, you had better be paying attention.  Caveat emptor.  Translation:  If you’re not being treated like a customer (instead of a patient), go somewhere else.

Malone cautions us that we also need to develop our relationship skills.  If we start acting like we know more than our physician, either we are now part of the problem or we need a new doctor (and maybe both).  Mutual respect is important.  And any good doctor will welcome an involved, educated client.  Yes, client.

A few days after I finished reading this book, I had an appointment with a new doctor.  I brought my checklist (borrowed from The Life You Save) with me.  My new doctor did not wash her hands after entering the examination room, and did not put on a clean pair of gloves.  She did not use antiseptic hand wipes, and she did not clean the head of her stethoscope in my presence before examining me with it.  She did have a bright cheerful smile as she shook my hand.  For the first time ever, I wondered, who else had she just treated, what sicknesses did they have, and did she shake their hands as well?

One more thing I loved about Malone’s book.  He lists dozens of websites where the reader can go for further information.  Unless you are a trained researcher, these websites are a fabulous resource.  Buy this book now, and keep it handy as your most valuable resource when the freight train of health issues is headed down your track.  Be prepared.  The Life You Save??  Let’s put it this way:  Like an ice-cold Budweiser, this book’s for you!