Avoiding Problems Within the Hospital

The Institute of Medicine estimates that 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die each year by mistakes in the hospital. In addition to death, other complications and increased health care costs contribute to the dire state of the American hospital system. Complications, including errors, cost the American health care system billions of dollars each year.

Hospitalization is typical and often necessary when individuals are acutely ill, but it is fraught with risks. Hospitalization is not always required to treat disease, but at other times it is the only way to go, as many disease states cannot be managed without extensive monitoring and testing.

The hospital is a dangerous place. The risks of hospitalization can be subdivided into complications of hospitalizations, errors and iatrogenic disease. Complications are occurrences that result from some aspect of the hospitalization. Errors are mistakes that doctors, nurses or other staff members commit. Iatrogenic disease, defined as disease produced by doctors or other health care workers, runs rampant in the hospital.

You may be thinking, "Doctors don't cause disease". Yes they do. It is extremely rare that they would do this purposely but doctors and health care providers frequently cause disease unintentionally. Common examples of iatrogenic disease include infections, side effect or complications of a medication, or complications from a diagnostic procedure such as major bleeding or kidney failure.

Some errors are just mistakes that you cannot do anything about no matter how knowledgeable, attentive or careful you are. On the other hand, many errors can be over come by being an informed consumer of health care, asking questions and trusting your instincts. It is important to take responsibility while in the hospital to reduce the risk of complications. An educated and prepared patient is the best protection against medical error.

The first step in preventing medical errors in the hospital is to ask your doctor about the possibility of being treated at home. Many times hospitalization is necessary, but there are times when being treated as an outpatient is possible. Avoiding the hospital reduces the risk of complications, errors and adverse events.

Family support is an important part of getting through the hospital experience with the best possible outcome. Family and friends can be an advocate for you.

Medical errors are common - and at times fatal - in the hospital. To prevent errors and help the health care team - keep your own personal chart. Hospitalized patients are often not well enough to keep great notes on their illness so it often requires a family member to help in this process.

Your hospital chart is nothing more than a couple pieces of paper where key information is recorded. The personal hospital chart includes seven sections to monitor and follow your hospital course. The form is found in atKey points.

Below is a listing of the important steps to improve your health care while in the hospital.

  • Avoid hospital care if possible.

  • Bring your personal health record – which includes your medication list.

  • Keep your own medical chart.

  • Insist that the doctors, nurses, aids, laboratory workers or anyone who cares for you washes their hands.

  • Be nice to the nursing staff.

  • Assign a patient advocate, typically a family member or close friend.

  • Have frequent visitors.

  • If there is a problem, voice it assertively but be kind. Show appreciation if it is remedied properly.

  • Know your rights.

  • Know who is in charge – record the name of the charge nurse.

  • Get a private room if possible.

  • At discharge, get your list of discharge medicines and compare them to the medications received in the hospital. Discuss any discrepancies with staff before leaving the hospital.

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