Just because a hospital room appears clean and well-run, doesn’t mean it is. Any time you are hospitalized, you run the risk of developing complications not associated with the reason for being in the hospital. Hospital safety involves certain risks.
Risk # 1: Medication error. Recent studies show that 3-6 % of patients experience a medication error in U.S. hospitals. While that number may seem insignificant, the results are often far from minimal. The heparin overdose of actor Dennis Quaid’s twins speaks to how easily a mistake can happen and how devastating it could have been. Keep in mind the 4 “rights” of medications: the right patient, right medication, right dose and right time.
What can you, the patient, do to prevent medication errors? When you are hospitalized, be up front about your medications. Mention every medication you take, especially over-the-counter, herbals and vitamins. Know how much and how often you take your medications. If you bring your medications to the hospital, do not take them unless the doctor tells you to.
Stay vigilant. If you are unable to watch out for yourself, have someone with you. Every time someone gives you medication, ask, “What is this?” and “What is it for?” You may think you recognize your pills, but there are many that look alike. Ask. Double check that you are supposed to take each pill. Yes, you may be a nuisance, but you will also be safe. Write down the time and name of what you are taking so that you don’t have to rely on your memory.
Be sure you understand discharge instructions, especially related to your medications, you have prescriptions to take home with you., and you check with your regular doctor before resuming home medications after discharge.
Risk # 2: Hospital-acquired infection. Remind caregivers to wash their hands before touching you. Up to 7% of patients develop infections unrelated to the reason they were hospitalized. Hand-washing is required and expected. Whenever a caregiver comes into your room, ask, “Would you mind washing your hands? I’m germ-o-phobic.” If anything is amiss, such as linens that haven’t been changed, or a floor that needs to be mopped, politely request the situation be corrected.
Risk # 3: Care mistakes. Hospital staffs are short-handed, overworked, and do make mistakes. Errors include feeding someone who is supposed to be fasting for a procedure, or not feeding someone who is allowed to eat; operating on a wrong site; miscommunication between multiple doctors; overlooking a change in condition, especially when the change is for the worse. You can protect yourself by having someone stay with you. If you can afford it, hire private duty care to stay with you, especially at night. The hospital can set this up for you if you request it.
If you are preparing for an elective, rather than emergency admission to the hospital, you can now research the hospital’s statistics such as the nurse-patient ratio, or infection rates. Interview your doctor for his or her experiences with the hospital. Look online for the hospital’s ranking and rating, and call to ask about the nurse-patient ratio on the floor to which you will be admitted.
When you are sick, or recovering from surgery, you want to believe you will receive the best possible care, with the least risk of developing complications. In today’s healthcare environment, patients bear some of the responsibility for ensuring their safety while in the hospital.