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How to Avoid Hospital Mistakes: The Value of an Advocate - Aging Wisely

A five year study conducted in 10 North Carolina hospitals found little progress in patient safety. The study found that “harm to patients was common and that the number of incidents did not decrease over time”. The most common problems were complications from procedures or medications and hospital-acquired infections. The study’s authors express disappointment but not surprise and feel the results would likely be found in most regions. A government report in 2008 found similar results, indicating that 13.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries — 134,000 patients — experienced “adverse events” during hospital stays. The report said the extra treatment required as a result of the injuries could cost Medicare several billion dollars a year.

Fortunately, organizations focus increasingly on these issues. Additionally, insurers and Medicare have begun implementing financial incentives and penalties related to care quality.

On an individual level, what can be done? What tips can help you avoid medical errors for you or a loved one?

1. An patient advocate is essential for anyone having surgery, admitted to the hospital or undergoing treatment for a chronic illness. A family member, friend or professional advocate helps ensure important questions are asked and answered and is there to watch out for you. In an article for the Professional Patient Advocate Institute, Martine Ehrenclou indicates, “More than 150 doctors and nurses I interviewed said this: ‘Hospital care is in crisis. You must have someone with you at all times in the hospital. Loved ones are patients’ best advocates.’”.

2. Make a checklist of questions (and have your advocate help you think of them, and focus on them during interactions with providers). It is easy to be overwhelmed by the crisis of a diagnosis or surgery (to say nothing of the effects of not feeling well and medications). This objectivity is another reason why a professional patient advocate can be beneficial to both patient and loved ones. A professional advocate also brings experience to the situation to help those involved know what to ask and issues to anticipate.

3. Focus on key areas of concern, involved with most errors:

A. Medical history/issues that might cause complications: ensure providers have a detailed history and know about key issues. Having a health notebook or using an electronic health record will help your organize and communicate this information. Double check that providers have correct information.
B. Medications: provide clear, specific information on current medications (bring along your bottles to appointments if need be), ask questions and do not hesitate to discuss concerns with your pharmacist. Always review the medication list and ask questions about new medications, changed dosages, or discontinued medications. In our geriatric care management practice, we often pose questions upon doing a chart review that raise potential issues and head off further problems.
C. Infections: observe hygiene practices and don’t hesitate to raise concerns. Your advocate can be your eyes and ears to help spot any issues.

Contact us today for professional advocacy and care consultations. Aging Wisely’s professional geriatric care managers are here to help seniors and family caregivers with ensuring quality care.

Look for our coming article on hospital discharge and how to avoid unnecessary readmissions, prepare for discharge and how we can help.

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