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Staying Safe in the Hospital

About two weeks ago The News & Observer printed an article all about Joe and Terry Graedon’s experiences with the health care system and what they learned about what patients can do to help prevent medical errors from happening to them while in the hospital.  The entire article can be read here and is enlightening, but if you read nothing else, the checklists they created were particularly helpful.

Ways to Prevent Medical Errors

  1. Expect mistakes and have an advocate with you in the hospital.
  2. Be assertive. “Being nice can get you killed.”
  3. Check every medicine to make sure the dose is right.
  4. When in doubt, “say No.” Demand and explanation.
  5. Be vigilant during transitions, from one floor to another, or when shift changes.
  6. Alert the nurse or rapid response team if something seems wrong.
  7. When discharged from the hospital, get detailed instructions and contact information.  Know what symptoms might signal a worsening situation or infection.
  8. Hospital doctors may never speak to your primary care physician.  Take your records and don’t assume doctors already know what’s in them.
  9. Double-check everything.  Don’t assume no news is good news or that test results are always correct.  Get copies of lab results in a timely fashion.  If something seems wrong, request a repeat.
  10. Take a friend or family member to doctor’s visits.  Nearly every error made in the hospital can be also be made in the outpatient setting.  A second pair of eyes and ears can be useful in getting instructions and spotting problems.

Patient Checklist

  • Take a list of your top health concerns/symptoms
  • Ask your doctor for a recap to make sure you’ve been heard.
  • Take notes or record the conversation so you can remember.
  • Carry a list of all your medicines and supplements.
  • Find out about the most common and serious side effects your medicines may cause.
  • Ask the doctor how confident he is about your diagnosis.  Find out what else could be causing your symptoms.
  • Get a second opinion.
  • Ask health care providers to wash their hands before they examine you.
  • Keep track of your progress: keep a diary of relevant measurements such as weight, blood pressure, blood sugar
  • Be vigilant when moving from one health care setting to another.  Mistakes and oversights are especially common during transitions.
  • Ask how to get in touch with healthcare providers.  Get phone numbers or email address and learn when to report problems.