As a former hospital administrative assistant, I learned that every employee should be a patient advocate. Medical facilities are there for one reason – to save lives in emergencies, through surgery, or furnish excellent medical care. There are times that patients may not make it, but it should not be because mistakes were made in the hospital where they were cared for. Hospitals have compliance officers and quality assurance officers that work to ensure that all healthcare standards are met. If a patient or family member has a complaint, they should ask for the compliance officer and express their issues regarding the care of the patient.
Understanding the compliance process and patient advocacy is a very important issue to everyone, because sooner or later, all of us at one time or another will possibly be a patient, or have a family member in the hospital. Patient Safety Awareness Week is a national observance sponsored by the National Patient Safety Foundation to promote an educational and awareness-building campaign for improving patient safety.
This is not meant to criticize the healthcare industry, which plays a very important roll in our well-being. But in my experience, when mistakes are made, it’s by human errors, mainly because of inattention or lack of concern. I’d like to give you a couple of examples: (1) After waiting on a very important diagnosis, and sitting in the examination room for almost an hour, the nurse came in and asked, “Now what’s your name?” (Makes you feel kind of special, right?) (2) How about: asking about lab work that was done a few days prior and was to be sent to a specialist, and hearing the nurse tell the doctor they guessed they put it under the wrong name. A short time later, it was found, and sent on. (Guess I would still be waiting, if I hadn’t asked.) These experiences are minor, but they are frustrating to the patient, as well as the doctor. Be your own advocate! When a clinic or other facility tells you they will send your records to a specialist, call to be sure they have done so. I have had several friends expecting to have their lab work or ct scan sent to a specialist located more than 100 miles away, only to find when they arrive, that the records haven’t.
Electronic systems rather than paper patient charts are now used in many hospitals. When a patient enters the emergency room, he/she is given a bracelet with a bar code. This serves as identification throughout the patient’s stay to make sure the needed medications are accurate. This system also assists with correct diet, medication, and other orders from the physician. Medication errors have caused approximately 7,000 patient deaths per year. Using these electronic systems require special training for the nurses, which usually takes a few days. The rights of patient safety should ask: Is it the right patient? Is it the right drug? Is it the right dose? Is it the right route? And, Is it the right time? Other patient safety issues that hospitals must avoid are:
- Wrong-site surgery;
- Hospital-associated infections, (HAI’s);
- Slips, trips, and falls;
- Not being familiar with patient’s family history;
- Ignoring alarms.
When a patient is getting medical treatment in a hospital and given their wrist-band, (many times color-coded), the admissions person will ask if they have a living will, and if they don’t, the hospital will furnish one upon request, and also patient privacy information (HIPAA). Persons should understand about a living will and a do-not-resusitate (DNR) order. HIPAA is a federal law that prohibits medical facilities from giving out private information about the patient. The amount of information that a care provider (nurse) can give is very limited under this law.
Families should ask a nurse to explain (especially if their family member is critically ill), about the monitors – which ones are being used, and the types of alarms that could sound, which alarms they should be concerned with, and ones that are minor alarms. Then if a critical alarm sounds, (usually it is more rapid and high-pitched), they can immediately go for help. Sometimes busy nurses do not hear the arlams or ignore the ones they think have low batteries. “Alarm fatigue” is often experienced by nurses because of the volume of beeping sounds throughout their shift. They must remember that many times the patient is depending on their quick response.
We are all thankful for hospitals, which goes without saying. For the most part, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities do a great job. But if you feel the safety of someone you know or love is being compromised, speak up! You must be a patient advocate in every sense of the word.