Hospital safety and medical mistakes
It’s been a while since I posted about staying safe in the hospital, so it’s time for an updated post.
Because the problem really isn’t getting any better.
Although there’s been much effort over the last decade to increase patient safety and reduce medication errors, medical mistakes still contribute to approximately 250,000 deaths every year.
Different sources rate medical error as the second or third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease.
But that’s not news to those of us in healthcare. We already know hospitals can be dangerous to your health.
On the health care blog KevinMD, a doctor wrote about not feeling well at work but not wanting to go 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.
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 3rd-year internal medicine resident, once whispered to me at a family gathering, “Do people realize how many mistakes are being made every day?”
When my husband was hospitalized following an appendectomy last summer, I couldn’t be there around-the-clock (I needed to sleep to stay safe on the roads), but I was there all day. I kept a watchful eye over the medications he was receiving and the tests he was scheduled for. And I made sure everyone who entered the room washed their hands.
Hospital safety tips
So what can you do to protect yourself, or help protect a friend or family member who is hospitalized?
Related post: Tips for hospital visits
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 far 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
I’ve written several posts about hospital safety because I think it’s so important for everyone to be informed and forewarned.
- Rudeness and patient safety
- Hospitals can be dangerous to your health
- Patient safety: Unaccountable
- How to choose a hospital
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! Below are a few of my favorites, including a workbook that provides checklists you can take with you to the hospital:
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!