As a patient, you expect to be treated with compassionate, high-quality care. You want to feel safe and confident that the doctors, nurses, and other staff are looking out for you. And as a general rule, they are!
There are, however, times when mistakes happen. Sometimes, people get health care-associated infections. Occasionally, medications get mixed up. These errors can cost lives, making it a good idea to be aware of what’s going on during your hospital stay.
Patient safety is a concern for many health care providers and is a public health issue. March 13-19 is Patient Safety Awareness Week 2016, and it raises awareness of the work being done at federal, state, and local levels to address issues that can harm patients.
According to the National Patient Safety Foundation® (NPSF), a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping patients safe from harm, one in 10 patients develops a health care-acquired condition during hospitalization, and medical errors cause the death of 44,000 to 98,000 hospital patients each year. With more than 35.1 million people discharged from the hospital every year, this is not a large percentage. However, any deaths from medical errors are tragic.
The NPSF is working with governments, regulators, health professionals, and others to make patient safety a higher priority. And while this work is ongoing, you may be wondering, “What can I do to improve my safety if I’m in the hospital?”
Patient safety tips
Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Speak up. Talk to your doctor about all questions or worries you have and ask what is being done to protect you. If you have a catheter, ask each day if it is necessary. Ask how your doctor helps prevent surgical site infections. Tell your doctor about all medications you are taking to avoid harmful drug interactions.
- Keep hands clean. Be sure that everyone cleans their hands before touching you.
- Get smart about antibiotics. Ask if tests will be done to ensure you have the right antibiotic prescription.
- Know the signs and symptoms of infection. Some skin infections appear as redness, pain, or drainage at an IV catheter site or surgery site. Often, there is a fever. Tell your doctor right away if you have these symptoms.
- Watch out for deadly diarrhea. Clostridium difficile is dangerous. Tell your doctor if you have three or more diarrhea episodes in 24 hours—especially if you have been taking an antibiotic.
- Protect yourself. Get vaccinated against flu and other infections to avoid complications.
Other things you can do to help prevent medical errors, according to the National Library of Medicine, include:
- Taking a friend or relative with you to your doctor appointment to ask questions and help you understand answers.
- Getting a second opinion about treatment options.
- Keeping a copy of your own health history.
- Making sure you know how to take any prescribed medications properly.
Asking questions is never rude
When you’re a patient, it’s your responsibility to get answers to your questions and to look out for yourself. Health care professionals are on your side, but accidents can still happen. Be aware of your options and work with your health care providers to ensure the best possible outcome.