6 Tips Prevent Harm and Stay Safe in the Hospital

Even though hospitals are designed for treatment and recovery, there is a lot that can go wrong. Errors such as prescription mistakes, surgical errors, and hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are alarmingly commonplace. In fact, an estimated one-fourth of all hospitalized patients suffer from a preventable hospital error, according to Consumer Reports. You can stay safe in the hospital by being proactive in your care and taking basic safety precautions.

Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D., patient-safety researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains: "The best advice I can give is to be your own advocate. Question, question, question until things are explained in a way you understand. A health-care system that doesn't address your concerns is a risky one."

Below, we share various things you can do to ensure your next hospital visit is a safe one. For questions about patient rights, hospital injuries, or HAIs in Georgia, call the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C. at 404-474-0804.

#1: Take a list of your prescriptions.

Many of the most common mistakes in hospitals involve prescription errors. This includes prescribing the wrong medication, wrong dosage, and contraindicated medications, and administering medication to the wrong patient. According the Consumer Reports, hospital patients receive an average of ten medications during their stay, making it all the more important to carefully monitor what hospital staff give you.

When you go to the hospital, bring a comprehensive list of prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take, as well as any herbal supplements. Write down the dosages and frequency you take, too.

And during your stay, make sure to ask questions about any drugs you receive. Before taking anything, ask the nurse or doctor what the drug is, what its purpose is, what dose you are taking, and what possible side effects you might experience.

#2: Bring someone you trust with you.

All hospital guests should have a family member, friend, or other trusted advocate with them when they are admitted into the hospital and whenever they speak with their doctors and nurses.

You might be too sick, medicated, or distracted to monitor your care on your own. Plus, it is comforting to know that someone has your back while you are there.

If you do not have someone who can come with you, ask your doctor if the hospital has patient advocate resources. Some hospitals have in-house advocates or can refer you to local providers that can help.

Your advocate should write down anything important the doctors or nurses say about your condition or treatments. She can also ask questions on your behalf, assert your needs and preferences, and voice concern if something seems amiss. In addition to being with you during check-in and visiting daily, she should be there when the hospital discharges you to ensure you fully understand your aftercare instructions.

#3: Check your wristband.

Mistaken identity in a hospital can be deadly. Make sure that your hospital wristband has your correct identification information on it and that all the healthcare professionals involved in your care confirm your identity and the reason why you are in the hospital.

Many surgical errors occur because of wrong identity, or because the surgeon operates on the wrong body part/wrong side, or performs the wrong surgery altogether.

Before you receive an anesthetic, ensure the surgeon and nurses know who you are and that they visibly mark and initial the correct surgical site. You should also ask about their "time out" protocol, their pre-procedure verification process for assuring accurate patient identity, surgical site, and procedure.

#4: Guard against infection.

All patients should take precautions for preventing HAIs, which can stem from contaminated surgical instruments, poor handwashing practices, and improperly sterilized catheters and needles. One in every 25 hospital patients has some type of HAI at any given time, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Common infections include pneumonia, gastrointestinal illness, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and surgical site infections.

Hygiene and wound care should be a top priority. To guard against infection, make sure that anyone who touches you, including doctors, nurses, and visitors, washes their hands with soap and warm water and/or uses a hand sanitizer.

It is perfectly fine to say to them, “I know you probably washed your hands before you came here, but would you mind washing them against just to be on the safe side?”

You can also ask your doctors to remove the catheter and any other tubes as soon as practicable. The longer staff members leave them in, the higher the risk of infection.

#5: Ask questions.

You are the final authority in your health care. You must ask questions about your care and stay on the ball to protect yourself. 

Ask questions about everything: your condition, your treatments, your prescription, side effects, alternative treatments, and potential outcomes. If your doctor wants you to undergo a new test or treatment, ask what it is for and whether it is really necessary. And if you are confused about care instructions or a diagnosis, ask the doctor or nurse to clarify.

Along the same line, if you are concerned about a treatment, a policy at the hospital, or if there has been a change in your condition, inform your doctor or advocate.

#6: Speak up if something is wrong.

Trust your instinct. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Healthcare professionals should never take your concerns lightly and have a responsibility to address your questions. If you start to feel worse or are in pain, inform your nurse to get the appropriate care.

And if you do not feel ready to go home, say something. Hospitals have big incentives for discharging patients as soon as possible. Usually, this is a good thing for patients, but if you feel you are not well enough to go home, tell your doctor.

“You shouldn't go home if you feel disoriented, faint, or unsteady; have pain that's not controlled by oral medication; can't go to the bathroom unassisted; can't urinate or move your bowels; or can't keep food or drink down. If your doctor isn't able to extend your stay, appeal to the discharge planner, the hospital's patient advocate or, if available, a state appeals board,” recommends Consumer Reports.

For more helpful tips and information, read through our blog at The Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C.