Why has safety and quality become a hot topic in health care?
In 2000, the Institute of Medicine issued a report showing that a significant number of patients are harmed in hospitals due to unintentional errors. All health care settings have since focused on making the prevention of hospital errors a top priority. People come to hospitals when they feel sick and vulnerable and deserve a hospital that is as safe as it can possibly be. Hospitals should be the safest place for patients. If a hospital ever harms a patient, it has gone against its fundamental mission, yet there were approximately 98,000 deaths in the United States due to hospital errors last year. That’s more than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer and AIDS.
At Women & Infants, we work continually to do all we can to ensure that this is not only a safe place, but the place that offers the best possible care. Patients also have a role, however, in helping to prevent errors while they are in the hospital.
What should a patient or family member be aware of while in the hospital to reduce the potential for medical errors?
Patients and family members should be active participants in helping to prevent errors. We know that despite all of our efforts to prevent them, errors can still happen, so patients and family members should pay attention and make sure they know and understand any test or procedure that they undergo while they are in the hospital. They should know what medications they are being given and when they are to be given. If something does not seem right, if a medication isn’t given at the appropriate time, they should speak to their health care provider.
Do I have a right to ask questions about my care?
Absolutely. Patients and family members have a right to ask questions, and they should feel invited to do so. They should ask questions about medication, about discharge instructions, about tests and test results. If the answer doesn’t seem right, they can ask someone else. We want to empower our patients to ask questions. It’s their body and they have a right to know.
Shouldn’t every health care provider who comes into contact with me and/or my baby wash their hands first?
Yes. It is the policy at Women & Infants that staff wash their hands before and after every patient encounter. This helps prevent disease. Many times, staff will use the antiseptic rub on their way into a patient room instead of washing their hands at the sink in the room. This is perfectly fine, but if patients question whether the health care provider has washed his or her hands, we encourage them to ask.
What do I do if I don’t understand the instructions my health care provider gives me? Can I get them in writing?
Patients must insist that they get an adequate explanation of any instructions they are to follow. It is part of the job of our physicians and nurses to be sure patients understand instructions. Patients can ask for written instructions if that is easier, and patients who do not speak English as their first language can ask for a translator to help them.
How does Women & Infants ensure my safety while I’m a patient there?
Safety is a big priority at Women & Infants and many processes have been put into place to support that priority. Prior to any medication administration or procedure, we always verify that we have the right patient by checking their hospital identification against our own records. We encourage our staff to report errors or what we call “near misses,” instances in which an error could have easily occurred. These reports go to senior level management and we make decisions to prevent errors in the future. Any difficult or unexpected outcome in the hospital triggers a review of the patient’s chart by experienced clinicians to see if there was anything that could have been done to prevent the error. We also audit all charts periodically to see if there are any areas of potential improvement. Safety data is reported to senior level managers and the Board of Trustees, which holds us accountable for ensuring this is a safe place.
What can I do before I’m admitted to ensure my safety?
The simplest way is for patients to bring a list of the medications they take, including vitamins and herbal supplements.
Can someone else, such as a trusted family member or friend, accompany me and ask questions on my behalf?
We encourage people to bring someone with them.