About one in three people in the United States will encounter some kind of mistake during a hospital stay, according to a recent study reported in April. This finding is about 10 times higher than estimates using older methods. Adverse reactions to medications account for nearly 1.1 million emergency department visits annually by elderly patients alone. 33% of these patients end up being hospitalized for further treatment.
Much more work is needed to improve health care quality. Medical errors are mistakes, when something happens with your health care that doesn’t work out or when the wrong plan was used. Medical errors can hurt or even kill people. Many, including doctors, hospitals, nurses, and others are working hard on initiatives to prevent medical errors. These can be medicine errors, mistakes with surgery, tests, diagnosis, equipment, lab reports and other aspects of health care delivery. They can happen during even the most routine tasks such as when a hospital patient on a salt free diet is given an high-salt meal.
You can protect yourself and your family from medical errors.
1. The single most important way you can help to prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team. Talk to you doctor, nurse and other health care workers. Tell them important information about your health. Ask them questions. Make decisions about your health care with them.
2. Make sure that you receive the right medicine. Bring your medicines with you to all doctor appointments or at least a correct current list of your medicines which includes the dose and frequency that you take them. Include on your list medicines that you may buy over the counter including aspirin, cold medicine, vitamins, and herbs. This will help your doctor make sure that your new medicine does not cause problems with the ones that you are already taking. Tell your doctor if you have any allergies. Also tell about any problems your medicines have caused, such as a rash or a stomach ache. When your doctor gives you a prescription, look at the writing. Is it easy to read? If you can’t make out the letters, the drugstore may not be able to either. When you pick up your medicine at the drugstore, make sure it is what the doctor ordered. Ask questions before you leave the drugstore. If you receive the wrong medicine from the drugstore, ask about it.
3. Make sure you follow the right schedule and take the right amount of medicine. Ask your doctor: “What time of day should I take this medicine?”; “do I need to take this medicine with food?’; “How much should I take each time?”. Make sure you know how to measure your liquid medicine. The label may say teaspoon but do not use the teaspoon you eat with to measure your medicine. These do not hold the right amount. Use a special measuring tool designed to accurately measure the amount. These are available for purchase at the pharmacy.
4. Errors made in procedures performed by health care workers can make you sick. Illness can spread when health care workers don’t wash their hands and apply gloves. It is okay to ask anyone who touches you whether they have washed their hands. Some foods can make you ill. Know what foods your doctor doesn’t want you to eat.For example, people with heart failure can not have salt in their food, and diabetics receiving a meal with lots of carbohydrates or sugar can become sicker.
5. Make sure that your doctor operates on the right part of your body. Talk to your doctor about the surgery. Ask what will be done. Be sure your surgeon makes a mark with a pen before the surgery on the part of your body where the surgery will happen just prior to the surgery, while you are still awake.
6. When you are discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home. This includes learning about your medicines and finding out when you can go back to your regular activities. Research shows that doctors think their patients understand more than they really do about what they should or should not do when they return home.
7. Make sure that those caring for you have all the important health information about you. Do not assume that everyone knows everything they need to know.
8. Ask a family member or friend to be there for you and to be your advocate. Having someone who can help get things done and speak up for you if you can’t is important. Even if you think you don’t need help now, you might need it later when you are groggy and sedated after surgery, or not able to think clearly if you aren’t feeling well.
9. Know that more is not always better. It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You could be better off without it.
10. If you have a test, don’t assume that no news is good news. Ask about the results.
Doctors and nurses, other healthcare providers want to offer safe care. They learned to do “no harm” in their training. In spite of that, defects in the health care delivery system result in errors. Teamwork among everyone, including patients, is essential.