Headed to the hospital? You should know that hospital errors - including deadly ones - are surprisingly common. In fact, mistakes involving medication, surgery, and the like may be 10 times more common than previously believed, according to to new research by the University of Utah's Dr. David C. Classen.
The good news? Patients and their family members can greatly reduce the threat posed by hospital mistakes simply by speaking up. Keep clicking as Dr. Classen explains nine questions that might save your life...
What's going on?
Unsure about what's going on - whether that pill in the nurse's hand is the right one, for example, or whether that doctor's hands are freshly washed? Speak up. Ask questions. If there's any doubt about what's going on, ask the staff to stop and explain things before proceeding. Speaking up is probably the single most important way to reduce your risk of being injured by a hospital error.
Are your hands clean?
Germs pose a constant threat to hospital patients, especially critically ill ones and those who have undergone surgery. Hand-washing is a key way of reducing the threat. Hospital workers are supposed to clean their hands before touching you - but they sometimes forget when things get busy. If you don't observe a worker washing his/her hands (or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) before touching you, ask about it. Be sure to ask your visitors to wash their hands too.
Have you looked at my list?
To minimize drug interactions and other problems involving medications, it's smart to always carry a list of all the medications you take. Be sure to include over-the-counter as well as prescription drugs - and herbal and dietary supplements too. If you do not have a list put all your pill bottles in a bag and bring it along to the hospital with you.
What's this test for?
Some hospital patients simply accept every treatment and procedure that comes their way. Instead, ask your doctors exactly what tests and medications will be ordered - and what each is for. The ensuing conversation should help you more about your diagnosis, too.
Is that the right drug?
Does the pill look different from the ones you've been getting? Didn't you just take a dose? If there's ever any doubt about whether you are being given the right pill at the right dosage, ask.
Do you know who I am?
Before taking any medication or undergoing any test, make sure health-care workers know they have the right patient. Staffers should do more than ask your name. They should verify your identity by checking your patient bracelet.
What precautions should I take?
Facing surgery? Ask your doctor about any precautions you should take before going under the knife. Will an antibiotic be given before surgery? Avoid shaving near the incision site (often recommended in order to minimize the risk of infection). Studies have shown that surgical errors are less common when surgical teams run down a checklist to verify all critical information (patient identity, surgery to be performed, which side to do the surgery, etc.). Ask that the checklist be discussed while you are still awake and capable of listening and make sure your surgeon is present during the checklist discussions.
Do you mind if I take notes?
Keep a notebook at your bedside. Write down questions you want to ask your doctor or other caregivers or to record important instructions.
Can you please speak with my advocate?
It's not always easy keeping track of complicated medical information, especially when you're sick and worried. That's why it's often a good idea to have an advocate with you in the hospital - a friend or family member who can sit with you and ask questions on your behalf when you're not quite up to the task.