Most doctors, nurses, and technicians do their best to take care of us, but like everyone, they sometimes make mistakes. Unfortunately, their errors can become serious problems — or even result in death — for the patient. In the United States each year between 44,000 and 98,000 people die in hospitals as a result of preventable medical errors. In addition, medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people every year. And, 1 in 20 hospital patients gets an infection in the hospital.
But you can take steps to reduce the risk of medical errors and ensure you have a safe, positive hospital stay. Your advocate(s) can help here, too.
- Review the patient safety information on your hospital. If the ratings are average, below average, or poor, discuss them with the hospital administrator.
- Learn about the most common hospital-related injuries, illnesses, and infections. These include medication dosage errors, pressure ulcers (also known as bedsores), and procedural problems. Find out more.
- Ask about hand washing for everyone — even doctors — who enter your room, touch you, or use equipment that touches you. No exceptions. If you have advocates with you, they can be very helpful in assuring that hand washing is not ignored.
- Ask about any medications you receive, no matter what time of day it is or how tired you are. Make sure all are medications you expect to receive in the right amount, schedule, and form.
- Ask friends and family not to visit if they’re sick.
- Report loose or uncomfortable bandages, wraps, sutures, IV connections, and catheters. These are the most common sites of infections.
- Alert a nurse if you feel any discomfort under your body (the first sign of a bedsore).
To improve patient safety in hospitals, the Joint Commission (the national organization that holds hospitals to standards of good care) recently updated its National Patient Safety Goals. Review these goals before you’re admitted so you know what’s expected of your hospital.
Take Care of Yourself
After your procedure, the doctors and nurses will do their best to give you the care you need. However, there are plenty of ways you and your advocate(s) can improve your health care by taking an active role. The most important way is to speak up and ask questions. Be firm in a friendly way first, but if you need stronger communication to get attention, don’t be shy. While you always have the right to voice your concerns, you should do so in a constructive way.
Here are some tips to help you get the information you need:
- Ask about the side effects and drug interactions of any new prescription you’re given.
- Find out what your medical orders are every day — you may need to avoid eating for certain tests.
- Ask to be informed of all test results. When the test is performed, ask when you can expect the results.
- If you can’t sleep or relax because there’s too much noise, talk to the nurses to find a solution. Research has shown that stress can increase healing time. Consider putting a note on your door asking for only medically necessary interruptions.
In addition to speaking up, there are other ways you can help yourself:
- Be patient on the day of your surgery. You’ll most likely need to fill out more forms and wait for the doctors. Arrive mentally prepared and you won’t get as frustrated.
- Make sure you’re moving about and getting good circulation in your legs to avoid blood clots and bedsores.
- Always sit up before you stand up to make sure you don’t fall. Be aware that certain medications may affect your balance and cloud your judgment, so do not attempt to stand up immediately if you’ve been lying down.
- Develop positive relationships with the staff. You need them to perform their best for you.
- Record everything that happens in a notebook or smartphone. Apps such as Patient Journal can help you keep track of important milestones, medications, and even your diet.
If There’s a Problem
Try to be prepared in case there’s a problem. Here’s how:
- Get contact information for your doctors, and know when they’re coming to see you.
- Get contact information for the attending doctor or doctor on call.
- Find out who the nursing supervisor is and how to reach that person.
If a concern about quality arises during your stay, you can:
- Talk with a member of the hospital staff who can fix the problem. Start with a nurse or social worker. If that doesn’t work, contact the patient relations office or the hospital ombudsman.
- File a grievance with the hospital. If your issue is still not resolved, you can lodge a formal complaint. The hospital is required to respond to and resolve the issue in a reasonable amount of time.
- If the issue is still not resolved to your satisfaction, you can file a complaint with an outside organization such as the California Department of Public Health or The Joint Commission. You can also file a complaint with your health insurance provider, Medicare, or Medi-Cal.