We are midway through National Patient Safety Awareness Week, an important observance to remind us all that we, as patients, must do what we can to stay safe when we are in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital.  Mistakes do happen, and may seem small, but it all adds up to the saying, “the worst place to be if you are sick – a hospital”.  We know that many lives are saved by treatment and surgeries that were unimaginable years ago; however, there have been patients who have been harmed by medical errors.  If this happens, it is often a result of a series of small failures that are individually not big enough to cause an accident, but combined can result in an error.  Patients must become involved and informed about their treatment.  Everyone has a role in patient safety, and all will benefit from its successes when patients and caregivers communicate more effectively.

Here are some suggestions from the National Patient Safety Foundation:

  • Keep track of your history: Include medical conditions you have, allergies, hospitalizations, etc.
  • Have the names of your pharmacy, doctors, and clinics ready for quick references.
  • Become a more informed health care consumer: seek information about illnesses or conditions that affect you.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or insurance coordinator.
  • Work with your doctor and other health care professionals as a team: give up to date information to everyone who is treating you.  Be sure you understand the care and treatment you will be receiving.
  • Pay attention.  If something doesn’t seem right, call it to the attention of your doctor or health care professional.
  • Involve a family member or friend in your care.  If you are not able to observe or participate fully in your care, ask a family member or friend to help you.  Everyone should have an advocate – a friend or family member, especially for check-in and discharge or doctor’s visits.
  • If you have to be in the hospital, bring a notebook with a list of your medications.  If questions arise, write them down.  Take a big bottle of hand sanitizer, and place it by your bed to remind you and the staff to keep hands clean.
  • Follow the treatment plan agreed upon by you and your doctor.  Ask questions about any instructions that are confusing or unclear.  Take medications exactly as prescribed.  Report anything unusual to your doctor.

Infections can occur after many types of medical procedures.  This is particularly true if you have surgery.  My husband contracted a Strep B infection after hip surgery, which required six weeks of home health care.  Staph infections are very serious and difficult to get over, so both the patient and staff must take all precautions to not allow an infection.

Remember, you are your best advocate when it comes to your health.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you didn’t understand the first time.  Especially when in the hospital, and you have waited for the doctor to make rounds, have your questions ready so you won’t forget important things to ask.  Our hospitals are there to help restore us to good health.  They are making strides to correct errors that have been made in the past.  Many times our lives may be in the hands of nurses and physicians.  It is only right to hope for the best care possible.