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Preventing Medical Errors In and Out of the Hospital

By Martine Ehrenclou, M.A.

The seventh annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospital Study found that nearly one million patient-safety incidents occurred among Medicare patients over the years 2006, 2007, 2008, a figure unchanged since last year’s study by HealthGrades, the leading independent healthcare ratings organization. The incidents were associated with $8.9 billion in costs, but more significantly, 1 in 10 of these Medicare patients, 99,180 individuals, experienced a patient-safety incident and died as a result. This means that if you have to go into the hospital, you must be as vigilant as ever. You or a loved one doesn’t want to become a statistic. The good news is that there are simple ways you can protect yourself. Many of these fatal medical errors are preventable.

9 Tips To Prevent Medical Errors

  1. Maintain control over your health. Whether you visit your doctor or are admitted to a hospital for a medical condition, you must monitor your medications, your treatment plan and understand exactly what your doctor is recommending and why. If you don't understand why a medication or procedure is recommended, ask questions. Yes, you can ask the doctor to clarify things for you. Please do not be intimidated by medical professionals. Just be polite and respectful.
  2. Ask a loved one to be your eyes and ears during your hospital stay. Ask them to monitor your medical care. If anything appears unusual or out of the ordinary, ask your loved one to speak up if you are unable. It's very difficult for patients to advocate for themselves while recovering. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
  3. Keep your Patient Safety Checklist handy. To create one, go to: www.criticalconditions.com/Patient-Safety-Checklist.pdf
  4. Create a list of medications and their dosages, allergies to medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements. Make a copy to be placed in your medical file.
  5. Effective communication with physicians and nurses is crucial to your health and wellbeing in the hospital and outside of it. If you are unable to communicate with the medical professionals, ask your loved one (your advocate) to assist. The conversations can be recorded with a micro cassette recorder, Blackberry or iPhone or you can take notes. Discuss what transpired afterwards to help distill the information.
  6. Your health is a team sport. Get involved. Show interest and a willingness to collaborate. If you are invested in your own health, the more likely your medical professionals will be, too. You are a partner in your own health and wellbeing.
  7. Do research on your medical condition only on credible websites. Please do not "Google" your medical condition. See a list of these credible sources on the Critical Conditions website at www.criticalconditions.com/resources.htm The more educated you are about your medical conditions and the treatment options, the more effectively you can communicate with your doctors and nurses and the more control you will have. Knowledge is an antidote to a state of helplessness. No one likes to feel helpless. If you are unable to do this for yourself, enlist the help of your loved one.
  8. If your hospital or doctor's office has electronic records, do not take them for granted. Go over your Patient Safety Checklist for patient name mistakes, medication errors and more. Electronic records are not going to solve everything. There are mistakes that result in injury or death with electronic records. Health IT glitches have resulted in at least 44 patient injuries and six patient deaths, and that may be “only the tip of the iceberg,” said Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
  9. Be mindful of hygiene. If you have a medical visit to your doctor's office, wash your hands immediately after. Use antibacterial gel. If you are a patient in the hospital, ask everyone who comes in contact with you to wash their hands. That means doctors and nurses, too.