What Everybody Ought to Know about Hospital Mistakes (And 7 Ways to Avoid Them)

The latest news on the preventable hospital error front is not good: a full-out effort by Massachusetts hospitals to reduce the number of serious medical mistakes they make each year failed to produce any reduction.

The number of Massachusetts patients who were given the wrong medication, had the wrong body part operated on, or were seriously hurt or died from a fall remained essentially unchanged in 2010 compared with the previous year, according to a story in the Boston Globe.

In all, 512 patients suffered from a so-called serious reportable event in 2010, compared with 510 in 2009, according to the story.

Alarmingly, the failure to produce results followed an intense campaign by the hospitals to reduce preventable errors in high occurring areas: falls, wrong medications, pressure sores, and surgical mistakes. Hospitals across the country are paying more attention to these areas because of new federal rules that will prohibit hospitals from charging for treatment that was provided as a result of a serious event in the hospital, such as an infection from a bedsore or a hip replacement after a fall.

While hospitals work to reduce medical mistakes from their end, there are a number of practical steps our committed Boston personal injury lawyers recommend consumers can take to avoid serious hospital errors. Following are seven of them:

  1. Check out your hospital’s infection record. Hospital infection rates are a good indication of the quality of hospital care. You can compare hospitals in your area by going to Hospital Compare, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Discuss your findings with your doctor.
  2. Ask about your doctor’s experience. Statistics show the more often a doctor has performed a procedure, the better the outcome. Also, confirm your doctor is board certified in his or her specialty.
  3. Take prescription bottles with you. Don’t rely on copying down information.
  4. Keep someone in the hospital room with you at all times. A friend or relative can remind people to wash their hands, double check medications, ask questions, take notes and make sure you don’t get out of bed without proper assistance.
  5. Don’t get out of bed without help if you are at all unsteady. (This is where a friend in the room is important. Sometimes a patient doesn’t know when he or she needs extra help). Wear skid-proof socks.
  6. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer beside the bed. Offer it to visitors and staff, and ask someone to regularly swab down surfaces touched a lot, like door knobs and table tops. Hospital-acquired infections are a main source of longer, more difficult hospital stays.
  7. Be pleasant but persistent. Experience shows that a kind word and a smile can get the attention of an overworked nurse better than a complaint. Let the staff know you appreciate everything they.
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