Hospital safety and medical mistakes
A friend forwarded an email to me. It was from a retirement blog he subscribes to, and this particular post was about what the writer, a doctor as well as a blogger, considers “The deadliest place you’re likely to visit this year…”
He’s talking about hospitals. And he’s not being overly dramatic, either.
He knows what many of us in health care know: hospitals can be dangerous to your health. One of my best friends is a physician. We have a pact that if either one of us has to go into the hospital, the other will be there 24/7 to make sure we come out at least as healthy as we went in.
My niece, a 4th year medical student, whispered to me at a family gathering few months ago, “Do people realize how many mistakes are being made every day?”
“Unfortunately, no,” I replied.
And I recently read a post on the health care blog KevinMD about a doctor who was not feeling well at work but was resistant to going to an emergency room for care. Why?
How can I be a patient in an unfamiliar hospital, without knowing their quality and safety record, level of expertise, and their standard of care? Of course, I am skeptical. [I] know that medical errors are the number two cause of death in America.
Actually, the last statistic I’ve seen puts medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the US after heart disease and cancer. But still…
The true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year.
And that’s not counting the number of patients who are harmed, but survive.
Serious harm seems to be 10- to 20-fold more common than lethal harm.
Hospital safety tips
So what can you do to protect yourself, or help protect a friend or family member who is hospitalized?
Medical errors can occur in different ways in a hospital. The most common preventable mistakes are related to medication mix ups, incorrect tests or treatments, falls or hospital-acquired infections.
Here are 10 tips I’ve learned from experience or from other health care friends:
Hospital Safety Tips
- Ask a family member or friend to stay with you in the hospital. Having your own personal health care advocate at your side increases your safety. A second pair of eyes and ears can help keep track of your care plan and watch out for mistakes.
- Know why you’re going to the hospital. Know both the clinical and common names for your condition. For example, the clinical name for removing a gall bladder is a cholecystectomy.
- Bring all your medications with you to the hospital, including any non-prescription medications or supplements. Make sure they are labeled with your name. Bring a written and dated list as well.
- Know both the brand and generic names of your medications. Know what condition each of your medications treats.
- Inform your caregivers of any medication allergies you have. Don’t assume this information is in your medical record. Electronic health records are from perfect.
- Be alert for medications that look or taste different than your usual. Don’t hesitate to ask why. It might just be a different brand, but it could also be the wrong medication.
- Make sure the caregiver checks your hospital wrist band before giving you any medication or taking you away for a test or procedure. Be assured they have the right patient!
- Ask about every test done. Why is it being done? What are the benefits and the possible risks? What are the alternatives?
- Ask for help getting out of bed. Dizziness can be caused by medications or when standing too quickly. And bring a pair of non-slip socks or slippers with rubber soles to prevent falls.
- Ask caregivers and visitors to wash their hands when they enter your room. Prevent the spread of germs!
Learn more about hospital safety
Check out my Resources page for links to organizations that are dedicated to improving patient safety in hospitals, and provide tools for choosing the safest hospitals.
Read a book! These are a few of my favorites:
If you have other hospital safety tips to share, or if you’ve had a good or bad hospital experience you’d like to talk about, please add a comment!