When your loved one is in the hospital for an illness, injury, or other condition, hospital safety may not be their main focus. As their advocate, you can be aware of certain hospital practices that are proven to reduce medical errors and increase the safety of your loved one’s care.
An estimated 210,000 to 440,000 people die each year from medical errors, making it one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Many of the errors in health care result from a culture and system that is fragmented.
Research indicates that mistakes are not necessarily due to providers not trying hard enough. Instead, they result from shortcomings in the health care system. Progress continues to be made to improve patient safety, but more research is needed.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to promote a safe visit while your loved one is in the hospital.
What can patient advocates do?
- Speak up. Look up how the hospital scores on patient safety measures, and raise any concerns with the care team. Talk to the doctor and care team about all questions you have. It is okay to ask them what they are doing to protect your loved one.
- If your loved one has a central line catheter or urinary catheter, ask each day if it is necessary. Leaving a catheter in place too long increases the chances of getting an infection. Let your doctor or nurse know immediately if the area around the central line becomes sore or red, or if the bandage falls off or looks wet or dirty.
- If necessary, make sure the right preparations are in place for surgery. Ask the doctor how he/she prevents surgical site infections and how you can help prepare your loved one for surgery.
- Get smart about antibiotics. Ask if tests will be done to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed in the proper dosage, frequency and duration.
- Watch out for harmful diarrhea (aka Clostridium difficile). Tell your doctor if your loved one has 3 or more diarrhea episodes in 24 hours, especially if they have been taking an antibiotic.
- Know the signs and symptoms of infection. Some skin infections, like MRSA, appear as redness, pain, or drainage at an IV catheter site or surgery site. Infections can also lead to sepsis, a potentially deadly condition which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and sore throat. Tell your doctor if you notice these symptoms.
What should your doctor do?
- Be knowledgeable about common causes for, and solutions to, medical errors.
- Communicate fully any relevant information about your loved one’s care to other health care professionals.
- Participate actively in specific activities that can lead to patient safety.
- Commit, with the hospital, to ensuring that proper infection control and environmental disinfection procedures are performed.
- Regularly evaluate whether a central line or urinary catheter is necessary.