Preventable mistakes made in the hospital are a leading cause of death in the United Sates. Hospital acquired infections, wrong site surgeries, patient falls and medication errors are high on JACOH’s list of benchmarks when deciding to accredit a hospital. Safety is a huge issue for hospitals. Without JACOH accreditation a hospital is not eligible to receive Medicare reimbursement, a major source of revenue.
A number of issues contribute to the high incidence of hospital mistakes. Every 3 minutes another American turns 60. The baby boomers are aging and the result for hospitals is an aging, sicker patient population. The median average age of your nurse is 50. By the year 2020, 44 states will have a severe nursing shortage. Even in states that have enacted standard nurse patient ratios, hospitals have compensated by cutting ancillary staff such as nursing assistants with the net result being no real increase in actual patient care hours. Hospitals reasoning is you’re getting quality hours from a nurse, but skill and commitment can’t compensate for overload and overload as much as any carelessness causes mistakes.
If all that weren’t enough, tort law and medical malpractice insurance can affect the way your doctor treats you. It can be cheaper for the malpractice company to settle a claim than to fight it, even if your doctor did nothing wrong. Since malpractice insurance, like any insurance can go up with claims, your doctor often ends up practicing “defensive medicine”. He may order test or procedures that aren’t really necessary because he is worried about the possibility of being sued.
A push now exists for consumer medicine. Patients are now customers and somewhere in there the sacred trust you would hope your doctor or nurse would feel for your care has been lost in a McDonald’s mentality.
So what can you do to decrease your risk in this “brave new world” of medical care? Consider these tips the next time you head to the hospital.
1) Have a family member stay with you during in your hospital stay. In your illness you often feel too bad to be your own advocate. Your family member can be sure your concerns are relayed to your doctor or nurse.
2) Ask questions. Be polite, not accusatory but ask what medicine you are receiving and what it’s for. Keep in mind, the same medicine can be made by several different drug companies. You may be getting the same medicine you took at home but it may look different. Your nurse should identify you by your name. If she calls you by someone else’s name be concerned! Be your own advocate. Pay attention.
3) Your nurse and doctor should wash their hands before and after touching you. Your room will have hand washing foam at the door. Are they using it? Hospital acquired infections are on the rise and hand washing is one of the greatest deterrent to spread of infection.
4) If you’re having surgery, especially site specific surgery such as a left or right limb or eye, be sure the right body part is marked before surgery. Wrong limbs have been removed!
5) Keep a written list of your medications including doses and how many times you take them a day. Saying, “That little blue pill” won’t be helpful. Make several copies and be sure you and your family have one whenever you go to the doctor or hospital. If you have more than one doctor, be sure all your doctors know all your medications. Don’t assume they talk to each other!
6) Don’t develop sudden helplessness just because you’re in the hospital. If you can do it for yourself safely, do so. You’ll get better faster.
7) Have reasonable expectations. You’re not your nurses only patient. Don’t wait until you’re ready to scream to call for you pain pill. Expect it to take time for your nurse to respond and plan for that. Be proactive in your own care.
8) Buy doughnuts. Medical care workers often don’t get a scheduled break. You’ll keep their blood sugar up which will help them do their job. Besides, it’s a nice thing to do.
Mistake will sometimes be made in the hospital setting by your doctor or nurse. Following these tips and being proactive in your own care can decrease the risk of mistakes.