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Afraid of Deadly Medical Errors If You Have To Go Into The Hospital? 8 Tips to Prevent Them.

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By Martine Ehrenclou – Author of the Acclaimed book "Critical Conditions – The Essential Hospital Guide To Get Your Loved One Out Alive"

Martine Ehrenclou

No doubt you’ve heard about the frightening number of deadly medical errors that occur in hospitals nationwide.

The key to preventing them is by being proactive and involved. We aren’t trained to be proactive when it comes to our own healthcare. What you may not know is that you do in fact have control over what happens to you in the hospital. Asserting yourself by asking questions and overseeing your own medical care is now essential. The life you save could be your own.

Nearly a quarter of a million deaths in hospitals nationwide were found to be preventable (The Fifth Annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study, 2008).

The good news here is the word preventable.

1. Enlist a family member or good friend to act as your advocate. Ask this person to show up on a regular basis and get involved to oversee and monitor your care. He or she will act as your eyes and ears while you are in the hospital. More than 150 doctors and nurses I interviewed said this:

"Hospital care is in crisis. You must have someone with you at all times in the hospital. Loved ones are patients’ best advocates."

You can also create a team of family and friends to share this task.

2. Get a notebook. Record your daily progress, medication names and dosages, procedures, treatments, and medical professionals names and contact info. Take notes on conversations with doctors and nurses. Ask your advocate to work with you on these notes. You’ll use them to recheck what transpires with your care.

3. To prevent medication mistakes. Medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year (Institute of Medicine). Write down your medications and dosages. List what medications look like, the shape and color of any pills, the names on the labels of bottles or IV bags. Create a detailed description as medication names can look alike and sound alike. Do you recognize the medication when it is administered? If not, ask questions. Be assertive. Make sure your allergies to medications are in your chart. Repeat this information to your primary nurse and physician.

4. To prevent surgery on the wrong body part: Ask your loved one to accompany you to the operating room. They will request to see the surgeon. Ask this doctor to mark on your body the correct site to be operated on and which surgery is to be performed. If the surgeon is not available, your loved one will ask to see the anesthesiologist and other staff involved in your loved one’s case and repeat this same checklist with each one.

5. To prevent patient name mistakes: check with each hospital staff member who either comes to pick you up for a procedure or who is to administer a treatment and match your name, birthdate and correct procedure. Repeat this checklist with each hospital staff person.

6. To prevent the spread of hospital-acquired infectious diseases: Among the most virulent are MRSA (staphylococcus aureus bacteria or "staph") and pneumonia. Ask every person who comes in contact with you, including the physicians and nurses, to wash their hands before touching you. Create a sign that is placed above your bed that says, "Please wash your hands before touching me." Place antibacterial gel next to your hospital bed and ask everyone to use it. If you can arrange for a private room, it will cut down on the number of people who travel in and out of your hospital room and decreases the spread of disease.

7. Holidays, weekends and nights. Medical errors increase at these times because nurse-to-patient ratios increase and doctors can be away. Ask your advocate or members of your team to be with you as much as possible or hire a sitter, companion or private duty nurse to fill in.

8. Ask questions. Many people are afraid to question their nurses and doctors. Don’t be. If you approach them with respect, most will respond in kind. If a medication looks new or different, ask for the name and what it is for. If something seems amiss, or you are surprised by some piece of information such as orders for discharge when you thought you were going to be in the hospital for another two days, ask questions. As long as you are polite and respectful, your request should be met with acceptance. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. This is your health and well being we are talking about. Be assertive.

© 2009 Martine Ehrenclou – Ehrenclou@criticalconditions.com

Martine is a writer and patient advocate. She has had articles recently published in newspapers and magazines on how to survive a hospital stay and how to keep loved ones safe in the hospital. She is currently lecturing on these topics and has been a guest on numerous national radio shows. She is at work on her next book.

"Martine has accomplished what scores of nurses have talked about for years. She has collected crucial helpful hints and organized them together in an easy to understand format for family members who have a loved one in the hospital. This book is their survival guide."
Jackie Koob, RN, BSN, Stanton, CA

We are interested in your experiences in the hospital. can you add to Martine’s 8 Tips? Your Comments will be promptly read and answered.