5 Tips for Staying Safe in the Hospital
Although doctors take an oath to “do no harm”, unfortunately many preventable medical mistakes are made, often in the hospital setting. 180,000 deaths among Medicare patients alone due to “adverse events” were reported in the latest Institute of Medicine report, ranking “preventable harm” as the number 3 cause of death in the U.S. after cardiovascular disease and cancer. What can we, as patients, do to prevent such errors?
Here are 5 tips for staying safe in the hospital.
1. BE PREPARED. Everyone should maintain a Personal Health Record (PHR) and bring this with them to the hospital. You should include in your PHR a complete list of medical conditions, hospitalizations, surgical procedures, names and doses of all medications you’re taking, a list of medication allergies, names and phone numbers of all medical providers and the names and contact information for the people you have chosen as your emergency contacts. “Advance directives” (a set of written instructions that specifies what medical actions should be taken for your health if you are no longer able to make decisions due to illness or incapacity) or paperwork designating a “power of attorney” or a “health care proxy” (a legal document authorizing someone to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to communicate for your yourself) should also be included in the PHR.
2. ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE BY YOUR SIDE. A family member, friend or personal healthcare advocate can make certain that your words and wishes are accurately conveyed to hospital staff and can monitor your care. Your personal advocate can help you ask important questions, serve as an extra set of eyes and ears and keep track of all of the hospital personnel involved in your care. Know who the “admitting doctor” is, because he or she is overseeing all of your care. Keep a notebook by your bedside to record the names and contact information of all of the medical providers who enter your room.
3. READ AND UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING YOU ARE ASKED TO SIGN. If you are confused about anything, ask questions until you understand. Make sure you understand the risks of any procedures being recommended. Know the purpose of all tests that are being ordered (or scheduled), and what the doctor is looking for.
4. QUESTION ALL MEDICATIONS. Make sure you understand what medications are being given, what they are being given for, and what their potential side effects are. Don’t forget to inform your doctors of all medications you currently take as well.
5. INSIST ON HAND WASHING.
Many hospital acquired infections can be avoided by this simple ritual. Some bacteria have become “antibiotic-resistant” and these present a very serious concern. A recent CDC study reports about 9,300 hospital infections occur each year with a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria called Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. Half the people who get bloodstream infections from CRE die.[callout1]Do not be afraid to request that everyone who is providing care washes their hands in front of you.[/callout1]
While being hospitalized can’t always be avoided, it’s important to be mindful and aware of everything that’s going on with your care. A personal advocate, like Dr. DeVore, who is knowledgeable about the health care system and medicine, can assist you to make sure that you ask the questions that need to be asked. So please remember these 5 tips for staying safe in the hospital because, understanding your needs and your care and making informed choices are what will make your hospital stay safe and healthy.