Although hospital systems and providers have good intentions, mistakes do happen. Being an informed, prepared patient is the best defense against possible hospital errors.
Errors like drug mix-ups, hospital-acquired infections, surgical mistakes, and excessive medical testing are estimated to affect one out of every four hospitalized patients. The most serious errors contribute to the death of approximately 180,000 patients aged 65 and older, each year. As a patient, you should feel comfortable asking about your medical procedures and care. Follow these tips to help ensure a safe hospital stay.
Before your Hospital Stay
If you know about your hospital visit ahead of time, try to prepare yourself with the following steps.
- Check hospital ratings – Find out what your hospital is rated on infection rates. One in 20 hospital patients acquire infections according to the CDC. Nearly 2 million patients become seriously ill from hospital-acquired infections each year. If you cannot chose a particular hospital, viewing rating information can help prepare you for what you may encounter.
- Get informed on medications, dietary changes and possible procedures – Talk to your doctor about the medications you should start or stop taking prior to hospitalization, changes in your diet you should make, and learn any information about the procedures and medications you may have as an inpatient.
- Compile a list of medications – Compile a list of all your medications and review the list with your doctor. List your prescriptions, over the counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and any other medications you may be taking. This information will be particularly useful for the hospital staff to reduce the risk of medical complications.
- Try to Schedule your Surgery – If possible, try to schedule your surgery for times that the hospital will be well staffed. Generally postoperative care over the weekend is reduced or limited, and urgent emergency cases spill over from the weekends. Hospitals are generally best staffed for amble operative and postoperative care Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
- Know your health risks – Check your risk of heart attack or stroke and make sure to let your provider know ahead of time.
- Bring an Advocate – Bring a person you trust to speak up for you and if necessary, make health decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This person can help you keep track of medications, procedures and speak up for you in times of emergency.
- Make sure you have a Living Will prepared – This is typically done well in advance, but be sure that you have a living will and testament prepared in case any unforeseeable events take place during your stay.
- Pack a bag – Pack a few personal belongings that will help you feel comfortable in your room like a change of clothes, fresh undergarments, pictures, a notepad and music.
During your Stay
- Give your list of medications to hospital staff – Give your nurse and doctor a copy of the medication list you prepared and make sure anyone working on you is well aware of your health risks to reduce complications.
- Get acquainted – Make it a point to meet and introduce yourself and your advocate to the hospital personnel. You should know the names of your nurse, your doctors, your patient representative, and they should know your name as well as your advocate. The better the staff know you, the easier it will be to see you as a person and not just a patient number. You should also be informed about whom to contact in times of need.
- Check your wristband for errors – Make sure there are no errors on your hospital wristband. Each individual administering medication, performing medical procedures or scheduling your surgery should refer to your wristband.
- Monitor your medications – Stay alert about what medications you are being administered. Hospital staff see several patients a day and unclear handwritten instructions can be easily confused. Take the time to ask what each medication is, what it is for and its risks. Never take a medication without knowing anything about it. It is a good idea to write down each medication, the proper dosage and what it is treating.
- Guard against infection – Ask anyone entering your room to wash their hands and keep hand sanitizer beside your bed. Washing hands saves lives. Also, inquire about how soon catheters, ventilators or other devices can be removed. The longer foreign objects remain in the body, the risk of infection increases.
- Watch for Unnecessary Tests & Medications – Unnecessary tests waste money but also pose health risks to patients through false positives and radiation exposure. There are some medications such as antibiotics and heartburn medications that are routinely prescribed for discharged patients, but are not always necessary. Be sure to ask if you really need any medication prescribed.
After your Stay
- Get a discharge plan – Before you leave, be sure to see someone responsible for creating a plan of care. They should schedule for any monitoring services you may need or follow up visits. You should receive a summary of information detailing your next steps, what medication to take and when you can transition back to normal life.
- Determine if you’re ready to go home – It’s financially beneficial to hospitals to have short inpatient stays, so it is possible they will tell you its ok for you to go home after a brief stay. Typically it’s best for the patient to get home and recover, but if you feel disoriented, unsteady, you have uncontrolled pain or you can’t perform basic functions unassisted; you may need to stay longer. Voice your concerns and make sure the best decision is being made.
- Get copies of test results – Ask for copies of all of your testing to pass on to your doctor and find out what your results were to tests you may have had close to your departure.
- Schedule follow up appointment with your primary provider – If it has not already been done for you during your discharge plan, schedule a follow up appointment with your primary care provider to make sure you are healing properly and your medications are appropriate.
If you feel that something is wrong, speak up immediately. Empower your advocate to speak up for you and reach out to the right personnel. You can report the problem to the hospital and your local health department if necessary. If you feel your concerns are not being addressed appropriately or promptly, consider hiring a lawyer to defend you and do not pay for hospital errors.