Here are 10 things to watch out for when dealing with hospitals! Knowledge is power!
1. If you have a choice of hospitals, ask if your doctor knows your options’ infection rates, which are measured using “catheter days,” meaning every 24 hours that a tube is inserted in a patient’s blood vessels. “The best hospitals’ rates have been zero in one thousand catheter days for a year or more,” says Dr. Pronovost. “If it’s risen above three, I’d be worried.”
2. Check your doctor’s experience
The more often a doctor has performed a procedure, the more familiar she is with its variations and complications and the higher her success rate is likely to be. Confirm that your physician is board certified in her specialty (check the American Board of Medical Specialties at abms.org), but also ask her how many times she’s treated your condition.
Secrets Your Doctor Keeps From You
3. Say no to Fridays and weekends
Weekends, nights, and holidays are not the optimal times for operations. Even the lead-up to the weekend can be problematic: “For elective surgery, avoid a Friday afternoon operation slot if possible,” advises a surgeon in a busy Midwestern hospital who asked not to be named. “The operating room staff may be fatigued and less able to concentrate then.”
It gets worse on the weekend. Stroke patients treated in hospitals on Saturday and Sunday were 16% more likely to die than those treated on weekdays, found a recent study from the University of Toronto. Staffing tends to be lighter then; getting lab results takes longer; and on-call docs have to drive in from home.
When you’re scheduling surgery, time of day matters: Ask for the second or third slot of the morning. “Any kinks in the team’s coordination or machinery are worked out, and the staff’s still well-rested,” explains Matthew Buchanan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Falls Church, VA.
4. Ask about your electronic records
Often, in a busy hospital, complicated medication orders are dictated quickly to harried staffs, so they can frequently be a source of error. If possible, use a hospital with electronic records, which can reduce prescription slipups sevenfold, according to a recent Weill Cornell Medical College study. When information is entered, the computer alerts staff to potential problems by beeping, freezing, and/or flashing a warning message to prevent improper dosages, incorrectly filled prescriptions, and dangerous drug interactions. Only 17% of hospitals have such a system for medications, but it’s worth checking for: After the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA, adopted one, its death rates dropped by 20%.
5. Bring your own bottles
The bottles we mean are strictly Rx. Doctors suggest you bring your actual prescriptions to the hospital–don’t just write down the names. “You cut chances of blunders such as missed doses and interactions when the staff sees what you’re taking,” says Tanya Froelich, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
6. Request a blood-clot screening
One in 100 patients admitted to a hospital dies of venous thromboembolism–a potentially deadly blood clot that forms in a vein–but half of those lives could have been saved with simple preventive measures available everywhere. When you’re admitted to the hospital, you should be screened–particularly if you’ll be recovering from cancer, heart disease, or any other major illness, says Frederick Anderson Jr., PhD, who wrote about the topic in the American Journal of Medicine. But half of at-risk patients don’t get basic clot-prevention help, such as compression stockings or heparin therapy–so double-check with your doctor that your risk has been adequately assessed and the appropriate measures taken.
7. Don’t go it alone
When you’re a patient in the hospital, you’re likely to be worried, stressed out, and under sedation at times, so it’s helpful to have your relatives and friends with you to act as your advocates. “I love it when someone close to the patient is there,” comments Ralph Brindis, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “They can ask questions the patient hasn’t thought of, and–because they know their loved one–they understand what she’d be anxious or unclear about.” By acting as extra eyes and ears for you, this team can keep track of your treatment and may prevent errors that would otherwise go unnoticed.
8. Get the surgery plan (before you go under)
Your surgeon should call a time-out before your procedure so the operating team can make sure everyone knows who you are, why you’re there, and the correct site of the procedure. Things can still go wrong, however, when a surgery requires multiple incision sites or if the team skips procedural steps during an emergency. To be safe, ask your surgeon to draw the proposed incisions right on the body part that will be operated on so you can see them while you’re still awake, recommends Dr. Buchanan.
9. Don’t get shortchanged by shift changes
The chance of medical mishaps shoots up during shift changes, says Arthur Aaron Levin, MPH, director of the Center for Medical Consumers. Before your current nurse leaves, request time to review your chart and what treatment you’re supposed to get next. And meet with your new nurse, too, to ask any questions you have, advises Caitlin Brennan, RN, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.
10. Demand a hand-wash
Potential for infection lurks everywhere in a hospital, so ask everyone to wash their hands before touching you. Sanitary gel dispensers should be available just outside or inside your room, but if you’re not sure they’ve been used, keep your own gel by your bedside, rub some on before shaking hands, and offer it to visitors, says Lawrence C. Chao, MD, an ophthalmologist in Irvine, CA.