As personal injury attorneys, we hear horrific stories of injury and illness that occur while someone is in the hospital. Studies show that one out of three people say they or their families have experienced medical error while in the hospital. Studies also show that nearly 100,000 people per year die as the result of errors in hospitals.
In our years of representing victims of hospital and medical negligence, we have learned several steps you can take to protect yourself or your loved ones while in the hospital. Remember, the key to preventing these tragedies is following this simple directive: PATIENT, PROTECT THYSELF.
1. SPEAK WITH YOUR DOCTOR DIRECTLY. Don't be afraid to demand an opportunity to speak directly to your doctor. As the doctor's customer, you have the right to say that you don't want to go through a nurse or secretary to get important treatment information.
2. ASK QUESTIONS. If there is anything that you do not know or understand, ask questions. Ask nurses, doctors, patient advocates and your family. Ask as many questions as are necessary to give you comfort and to insure that you know what is going on.
3. BRING AN ADVOCATE WITH YOU. If you are groggy from pain or medication, it may be difficult for you to communicate clearly with physicians and nurses. Have someone with you who can speak for you and who can ensure that your needs are met while you are in the hospital.
4. PREPARE A "HEALTH PROFILE." Bring with you a list of your medical conditions, medications you take on a regular basis, including dosage levels and including herbal supplements and vitamins, and whenever possible, bring with you the actual medicine bottles.
5. DOUBLE-CHECK ALL MEDICATIONS AND TREATMENT BEFORE ACCEPTING THEM. If you can't read the doctor's handwriting, there's a good chance the pharmacist or nurse can't either. Know when your doses are due and alert a nurse if you are not receiving your medications when you should be. If you're given medicine intravenously, ask the nurse how long it should take for the bag to run out. Ask questions and make sure you get answers.
6. AVOID SURGERY ON THE WRONG BODY PART. Make sure your surgeon marks the correct body part prior to surgery. This sounds silly but this mistake can and does happen.
7. TAKE NOTES. There's a lot to remember when you're in the hospital - names of conditions and medications you have probably never heard of. It's perfectly appropriate to take notes. You can also make a list of questions to ask your physician during rounds or to bring up to the nursing staff whenever necessary.
8. INSIST ON STERILIZATION. Hospitals are breeding grounds for bacteria. Hospital patients are extremely susceptible to infection because their immune systems are depressed either as a result of illness or medications to treat that illness. Insist that everyone who enters your hospital room wash their hands thoroughly. Make sure your sheets are changed every day and ask for a new disposable pillow when you are admitted. Beware of objects in the hospital room that aren't washed often, like the TV remote control. Remember... an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
9. BE POLITE. Studies have shown that overworked hospital staff provide more compassionate care to those patients who are polite and friendly. As your mother taught you, you get more flies with honey than vinegar.
10. ASK TO SEE THE PATIENT ADVOCATE. Most modern hospitals and other health care facilities have a person designated as an advocate to protect patient rights, answer questions and otherwise smooth out the hospital stay. Don't be afraid to ask for help!