Mistakes happen in hospitals. Around 100,000 people die every year from medical errors. While there have been many advances in patient safety, particularly in providing medication, there are still things patients and their families can do to help prevent a mistake:
1) Research the hospital. The more a hospital performs a procedure, the better they get, the better the outcomes, and the fewer the complications. Bigger isn’t always better but general statistics show experience counts. Same with surgeons.
2) Research the doctor. The same is often true with physician experience. The rural surgeon who seems warm and friendly may not be the safest doctor to take out your gall bladder. Just because a hospital credentials a doctor, doesn’t guarantee ability.
3) When you are admitted, list all medications you are currently taking, including herbal supplements and over the counter stuff. For example, St. John’s Wort can trigger a reaction with some prescription drugs. Be honest about recreational drugs or narcotics you may be taking, or have taken in the past. Many street drugs react with drugs for anesthesia. Complete the medical history, and read all of the documents having to do with informed consent that you are provided before signing them. If you don’t understand something or have a concern, say so.
4) Before surgery ask the doctor to mark the area that is to be operated on and ask if the hospital has the policy of calling a “time-out” just before your surgery to make sure they are doing the right surgery on the right body part on the right person. These time-outs are now standard. In addition, ask what steps will be taken to prevent an infection at the surgical site, such as antibiotics before or after surgery. Talk to the anesthesiologist or CRNA about what will be used to put you to sleep, who will be monitoring you, and what steps will be taken in the event of an emergency or unanticipated event.
5) Simple hand washing is the most important way to prevent infections. Soap and water or antibacterial gels, which are now in dispensers in most hospital rooms and corridors, are both effective. Notice whether caregivers have washed their hands and do not be afraid to remind a doctor or nurse to do so.
6) On discharge make sure you have instructions for recuperating at home, such as how to care for wounds or stitches, and ask for phone numbers for on-call doctors or nurses who you can call if something goes wrong or seems unusual after you leave the hospital. If your regular medications were discontinued during your stay, make sure you know whether to resume them; if you have been given new medicines, make sure you know what they are for, how they are to be taken, and whether there are any side effects or possible interactions with your other medications.
7) Have someone with you. In the Consumer Reports survey, people who had a family member or friend to act as an advocate were 16 percent more likely to say they had been treated with respect and 12 percent more likely to recommend their hospital to others. An advocate can help make sure you are comfortable, get information from the doctor or nurse, help you make decisions about treatment, and speak for you if you aren’t able to speak for yourself. If a patient is incapacitated, a friend, family member, should be on top of medications and treatment plans. At no time should patients or families have any hesitation about questioning anything that is happening in the hospital. It is even common nowadays to see posters around the hospital that say “Speak Up” to encourage patients and family members to challenge health care providers.
8) Be assertive and prepared, but always be courteous. You can challenge your doctor, but don’t alienate him or her. For instance say, “I know my body, and these symptoms aren’t normal for me. I’d like to work together to figure out what’s wrong.” That will get action.