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How to Avoid Medical Mistakes and Hospital Acquired Infections

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Surgery is a leading cause of hospital acquired infections like Staph or MRSA. Photo credit ©iStockPhoto/Platinus

People expect hospitals to be safe places to heal and recover from diseases. But unfortunately, many people leave the hospital with more problems than they had beforehand. In fact, a common way for people to catch MRSA or Staph is from simply visiting a hospital. Medical mistakes and healthcare-associated infections are also very common among in-patients.

Fortunately, you can reduce your chances of medical mistakes and infections during your next hospital visit by taking a few steps and precautions. Below you’ll see simple tips for avoiding medical mistakes and actions you can take before and during your hospital visit to reduce your risk of getting an infection.

Are You At Risk?

If any of the following describes you, then you can benefit from taking steps to avoid medical mistakes:

  • You or a family member is currently admitted to a hospital.
  • You have an upcoming surgery or other medical procedure.
  • You are visiting someone in a hospital or you work in a hospital.

Having the Right Mindset Before Your Procedure

When you need a hospital for medical care, you are paying the hospital to provide you with a service. As a paying customer, you have every right to look out for your interests and to find the best hospital that provides the services you need. Below are some helpful pointers to help you take charge of your hospital stay, be proactive and ensure that you get the best care possible.

  • Understand how the system works. Hospitals are profit driven and they exist to make money. Most people think that hospitals are driven solely by the noble purpose of caring for people and making them healthy. But most hospital decisions that affect your health are driven as much by profit motive and legal protection as they are by a desire to help you. So be attentive to what happens to you and “watch your back”, or have somebody else help keep an eye on things.
  • Know your rights. A doctor’s power to make decisions for you is based solely on how much power you give the doctor. It’s your decision to take a medication or not, or to have a procedure performed or not. Taking charge of your own health decisions is even more important if those decisions hold risks.
  • Meet with your hospital doctor. For medical procedures that are referred to a hospital, you probably won’t know the doctor who will be treating you. Be sure to meet with your hospital doctor and ensure she understands your particular needs prior to your hospital stay.
  • Find a high-tech hospital if possible. Look for hospitals that use computerized systems for tracking patient information and history, prescriptions and procedures. Such hospitals often use a bar-coding system for tracking patients and medications. The number of medical mistakes often drops dramatically after instituting such systems. These improvements help ensure that medications and procedures are proper and appropriate for you.
  • Look for hospitals that use a Checklist Protocol for procedures. Checklist Protocols are just like a recipe that nurses or doctors should follow when performing any procedure. Checklists help eliminate mistakes and can reduce infections resulting from inserting IV’s, catheters or other routine procedures.

How to Avoid Mistakes

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are not perfect. They can make mistakes and they often fail to follow proper procedures like hand washing between patients. Some of these mistakes are minor while others can be very hazardous to your health. Mistakes can happen easily given how busy hospitals get and how many different procedures and patients hospital staff have to keep track of. Below are a few ways you can help avoid medical errors during your hospital stay.

  • Be observant and proactive. Be aware of everything that’s done to you during your stay. Question all medications and procedures to ensure they are correct for you. Question anything that doesn’t seem right and stand up for yourself.
  • Get a health advocate. If possible, ask a family member or friend to assist you during your hospital stay. A health advocate will help you understand what’s going on, communicate with and question hospital staff, perform personal tasks you’re unable to do yourself and in general watch your back. A health advocate is essential if you cannot communicate well or be assertive.
  • Avoid unnecessary tests. Doctors rely heavily on testing to make important medical decisions about your health. Unfortunately, some medical tests are highly inaccurate and prone to false or misleading results. Unneeded diagnostic tests can lead to misdiagnoses and improper treatments. Some tests can even be dangerous to your health. As a rule of thumb, avoid medical tests unless there is strong reason to believe you have the disease and the risk to your health is very high if you do have the disease. Be skeptical of test results if the test itself is not very accurate.
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