Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hospital Essentials That Could Save Your Life

Hospital Essentials That Could Save Your Life

In the US, over 12,000 people die every week from health care gone awry; said another way, that’s about 624,000 deaths a year. These aren’t people who die because of the illness or injury that brings them to the doctor. These are people who die because of the care they receive once they get there. In fact, you stand a one-in-four chance that your death will be caused by medical care. Russian roulette offers better odds.”

In 2002 my Uncle Buddy was one of those deaths. At 84 years old Uncle Buddy had survived both the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, but he could not survive modern medicine’s cavalier cascade of preventable, but fatal, diagnostic and treatment errors at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

While his death was tragic, the hospital and doctors’ responses (and lack thereof) were infuriating and unconscionable. Obviously, with 12,000 people dying in hospitals every week, this is the rule, not the exception.

No errors were ever acknowledged and/or reported by the hospital, doctors, or staff. Nobody learned from the mistakes or changed anything, and business continued without missing a beat…killing how many patients before, that day, and ever since?

Most incredibly, there is no mandatory legal requirement for hospitals or doctors to report adverse events, serious medical mistakes ordeaths. All are reported on a voluntary basis. What isn’t measured cannot be fixed! As such, hospitals and doctors have no way of knowing or evaluating, let alone correcting, errors made and implementing safety systems to prevent them. Nor is there a unified national long-term strategic plan to reduce medical errors.

In what other industry would we tolerate such a bleak rate of mistakes, let alone fatalities, which remotely approaches this?  Imagine what would happen to the airline industry if 3 to 4 jumbo jets were crashing every day! They would shut it down. Or, what happens when two people die, and only a few others become sick, from Salmonella or E. Coli poisoning in a fast food chain. It would make national headline news, the restaurant would close, there would be a massive national recall of meat, and the packing plant would close until the source was identified and the problem fixed. This does not happen in medicine, in spite of the fact that low-balling at 624,000 deaths per year, it is the number one cause of death in the US.

As Rosemary Gibson points out in her book Wall of Silence; The Untold Story of the Medical Mistakes That Kill and Injure Millions of Americans: “Hospitals should be the safes places. The fact is they are not.”

Clearly, the assumptions that we make about our health, doctors, hospitals, drugs, tests and procedures are both grossly inaccurate and dangerous. What you don’t know can kill you when you enter, what appears to be, a disease care lottery.

Here are some hospital essentials that can decrease your risk of injury and/or adverse outcome, and perhaps save your life. (Quoting and paraphrasing pgs. 239-244: Wall of Silence)

  1. Know that mistakes can happen. By knowing that mistakes can occur, you can be on the lookout for them.
  2. Do not go into a hospital like a lamb, passively accepting what you are told at face value. Be aggressive and demanding. Your job is to get the best care possible, have your problems addressed safely, and survive your hospital stay. Question everything: every drug-dose-drip-test-procedure.
  3. Ask your direct caregivers if they washed their hands before touching you. Ask your doctor to tuck in his tie or take it off.
  4. Learn as much as possible about the disease or injury affecting you and your treatment options—down to every detail.
  5. Don’t put blind trust in doctors or hospitals. Seriously research to find the doctor and hospital that are best for you. Ask questions and delve deeper.
  6. Understand what ‘board-certified’ means.
  7. Obtain a copy of your medical records and read them. Ask questions and they will take you more seriously.
  8. Keep your own detailed coherent journal. Record every doctor who sees you and for what purpose. Write down all procedures, medications, vital signs, fluids-IV’s
  9. Trust but verify: Ask to find out who is taking care of you and their role—whether it is a nurse, resident, fellow, or veteran physician.
  10. Know how to contact and access your doctor directly (phone #’s, etc).
  11. As best possible, try to have someone with you in your room 24/7.
  12. If you hear nothing after a test is conducted, don’t assume that everything is ok. Call and ask for results.
  13. Follow your gut instinct. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. ASK questions! You may have to take matters into your own hands to save your own life!

1 comment:

Antonia Lloyd-Davies said...

Thank you so much for this entry! These numbers are staggering and distressing. Unfortunately, much of the American public is totally unaware of the dangers of hospital error. Your tips for protecting yourself and loved ones are great and valuable - more people should have this information. The only piece of advice I would add (which you do allude to), is to, if you suspect it is necessary, do not hesitate to contact a medical lawyer! The people responsible for these mistakes need to be held accountable. Great entry and thanks for sharing!