As reported by Reuters, millions of people die each year from medical errors and infections linked to health care. In fact, admission to the hospital is far riskier than flying.
Liam Donaldson, the World Health Organization’s (“WHO”), newly appointed advocate for patient safety was quoted in a news briefing stating, “[i]f you were admitted to hospital tomorrow in any country… your chances of being subjected to an error in your care would be something like 1 in 10. Your chances of dying due to an error in health care would be 1 in 300,” Outrageous considering that Donaldson says that this is compared a risk of dying in an air crash of about 1 in 10 million passengers.
“It shows that health care generally worldwide still has a long way to go,” he said.
Hundreds of millions of people suffer infections linked to health care each year. Patients should ask questions and be part of decision-making in hospitals, which must use basic hygiene standards and WHO’s checklist to ensure safe surgical procedures were followed.
According to the article, more than 50 percent of acquired infections can be prevented if health care workers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based handrub before treating patients.
About 100,000 hospitals worldwide now use the WHO’s surgical safety checklist, which has allegedly been shown to reduce surgery complications by 33 percent and deaths by 50 percent.
Reducing the Risk of Infection and Medical Error
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers the following tips:
1. Serve as an active member of your health care team.
Patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results. Some specific tips, based on the latest scientific evidence about what works best, follow.
2. Make sure that all of your doctors know about everything you are taking. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs.
3. Tell your doctors about any allergies and/or adverse reactions you have had to medicines.
This can help you avoid getting a medicine that can harm you.
4. When your doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read it.
If you can’t read your doctor’s handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either.
5. Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand—both when your medicines are prescribed and when you receive them.
- What is the medicine for?
- How am I supposed to take it, and for how long?
- What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
- Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
- What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
6. When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy verify that the medication you receive is the medication that was prescribed.
A study by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences found that 88 percent of medicine errors involved the wrong drug or the wrong dose.
7. If you have any questions about the directions on your medicine labels, ask.
Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For example, ask if “four doses daily” means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.
8. Ask your pharmacist how to most accurately measure your liquid medicine. Also, ask questions if you’re not sure how to use it.
Research shows that many people do not understand the right way to measure liquid medicines. For example, many use household teaspoons, which often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid. Special devices, like marked syringes, help people to measure the right dose. Being told how to use the devices helps even more.
9. Ask for written information about the side effects your medicine could cause.
If you know what might happen, you will be better prepared if it does—or, if something unexpected happens instead. That way, you can report the problem right away and get help before it gets worse. A study found that written information about medicines can help patients recognize problem side effects and then give that information to their doctor or pharmacist.
10. If you have a choice, make sure that the hospital where the procedure will be conducted has experience performing the procedure or surgery. which many patients have the procedure or surgery you need.
Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.
11. If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who have direct contact with you whether they have washed their hands.
Handwashing is an important way to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals. Yet, it is not done regularly or thoroughly enough. A recent study found that when patients checked whether health care workers washed their hands, the workers washed their hands more often and used more soap.
12. When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home.
This includes learning about your medicines and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities. Research shows that at discharge time, doctors think their patients understand more than they really do about what they should or should not do when they return home.
13. If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done.
Doing surgery at the wrong site (for example, operating on the left knee instead of the right) is rare. But even once is too often. The good news is that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges its members to sign their initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.
14. Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.
15. Make sure that someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care.
This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in a hospital.
16. Make sure that all health professionals involved in your care have important health information about you.
Do not assume that everyone knows everything they need to.
17. Ask a family member or friend to be there with you and to be your advocate (someone who can help get things done and speak up for you if you can’t).
Even if you think you don’t need help now, you might need it later.
18. Know that “more” is not always better.
It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You could be better off without it.
19. If you have a test, don’t assume that no news is good news.
Ask about the results.
20. Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.
For more information visit ahrq.gov.