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Bret Hanna
Bret Hanna
Attorney • 435-649-2525

Hospitals Not Necessarily Safe Havens

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According to a bulletin recently issued by AARP, hospitals can be very dangerous places. One highlighted statistic notes:

The number of patients who die each year from preventable hospital errors is equal to four full jumbo jets crashing each week. If airline tragedies of that magnitude were occurring with such frequency, no one would tolerate the loss.

That is simply shocking.

To be sure, modern medicine involves incredible complexities that go along with 13,600 potential diagnoses and 4,000 medical and surgical procedures and 6,000 drugs to deal with them. One method to address the medical error problem that seems to be gaining some traction is very simple – checklists. Checklists have proven invaluable to the air transportation industry as pilots use them to make sure that everything is considered when it comes to flying safely. As a patient, however, you can't necessarily rely on the hospital providing your care using best practices to ensure your safety. So, you need to look out for yourself.

AARP offers the following suggestions to maximize your safety during an inpatient stay:

1. Get to know your nurses and aides.

  • Nurses are the human face of technology-driven care. Your nurse is your day-to day point person and coordinates your daily care plan. She or he can be a powerful ally and helpful guide in navigating the foreign terrain of a hospital and its system and ways.
  • Aides handle many of the daily personal-care issues that are crucial to your comfort but they generally do not dispense medications or perform other nursing duties.
  • Each hospital has a different nurse/patient ratio, but nurses can always use more help. Understand that your nurse is caring for many sick patients but don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
  • Make sure you have the phone number for the nurses' station in case your call bell is not answered in a timely fashion and you really need assistance, especially at night, when there is less staff on hand.

2. Make names a must in all hospital interactions.

  • Names are the first thing to go in the hospital setting: "Oh, that's Bed 19, the bypass." Using names is the best defense you have against feeling anonymous and dehumanized. Names are a reminder to everyone that you are a person first and a patient second.
  • Using names encourages the essential human connection — the key to collaborating with your care team. Get to know your doctors' names— don't let them remain strangers to you at this most crucial time.

3. Consider your hospital room your temporary home.

  • Find out how to work the TV, the phone, the bed and the call button. Make sure that everything actually functions properly.
  • Climate control is essential to your comfort. Being cold slows healing and increases vulnerability to infections by suppressing the immune system. Make sure you have enough blankets to stay warm.
  • Real estate is everything in a hospital. Just a modicum of sunlight, a quieter room or a sliver of privacy can make a world of difference to a patient. If you're going to be in the hospital for more than a day, and you're very uncomfortable with your room or bed assignment, ask for a change.
  • You might want to bring a portable entertainment device such as an iPod containing music or audio books. However, keep in mind that hospitals are not responsible for personal effects so keep track of items like this.
  • Place multiple sets of earplugs and a sleep mask on the bedside table within easy reach.
  • Put pens and a notebook in an easily accessible place so you can make notes and write down observations.
  • Place a bottle of hand sanitizer on your bedside table within easy reach for your own use. You may be bedbound and not able to wash your hands very often. Facial wipes and mouthwash or mints are also good items to have on hand.

You can take your care into your own hands and you can make a difference in the outcome of your stay. It is worth your time and effort.