About 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections cause or contribute to 99,000 deaths each year. That makes preventable medical mistakes the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Some hospitals are finding innovative ways to reduce the risk of medical errors – see this OPB story about an Oregon hospital – and ultimately, it is their responsibility. But as a patient, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from medical mistakes.
Checklist to avoid hospital mistakes
- Check on your doctor. Make sure he or she is board-certified in their specialty- see the American Board of Medical Specialties – and ask how many times they have performed this surgery.
- If you’re having an elective surgery, don’t schedule it for Friday. Staffing tends to be lighter on or before a weekend.
- Don’t be first or last surgical procedure of the day.
- Ask to see your records before your surgery. Wrong-site surgeries occur 40 times a week in U.S. hospitals and clinics, and are often the result of a mistake in the patient’s records that goes unnoticed.
- Pay attention to the shift changes. Doctors and nurses have to absorb a lot of important information quickly, and may not be up-to-date on your medical condition. Introduce yourself to new doctors and nurses as the shift changes, and review your care plan with them.
- Write down any allergies, a list of your medications, and keep track of your own health care plan throughout your hospital stay.
- Keep hand sanitizer by your bed. Offer it to anyone who comes in – and use it yourself.
- Know who is reading your test results, and who is in charge of interpreting them. Radiology is frequently outsourced, especially in off-hours or in smaller hospitals.
Currently, there is no real financial incentive for hospitals to reduce the mistakes that lead to infections and deaths, with the exception of Medicare patients, but the Affordable Care Act would change this. Under the new health care law, hospitals that have to re-admit patients because of hospital-acquired infections or conditions may not be compensated for the patient’s follow-up care.