Protecting a Loved One in the Hospital
Just in time for the holidays, some bad news and some good news about hospital care:
Bad: The odds of suffering a preventable injury in the hospital are way higher than anyone thinks is reasonable. When a research team did a comprehensive review of medical records recently, they found as many as one in four hospital admissions marred by malpractice or some other type of injury, and most of them were preventable. (Read more here, and a similar report from another new study here. This second study found one in seven Medicare patients injured by preventable mistakes.)
Good: Patients and families can do a lot to prevent injury from the most common errors. And I can teach you how.
So this month, I offer tips on how to protect your family members and friends when they are hospitalized — and how they can help you if you’re in that unlucky situation. Read on for more details.
NOTE: All these tips are boiled down from my book, “The Life You Save.” Check it out from Amazon if you want to learn more.
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Step One: Have Someone in the Hospital Room at All Times
The hardest but most effective thing to do is to be there. That means 24/7. We can all find a million reasons not to do it, but that’s the first step that needs to be done: have a lay advocate at the patient’s bedside at all times.
Simple ways to make it easier:
* Hire a sitter — or private duty nurse if you can afford one — to fill in times when you cannot be there.
* Have family members take shifts.
You don’t need to know one single thing about medicine to be an effective lay advocate at a family member’s hospital bedside. You just have to have an inquisitive mind and a willing heart.
See the next section for simple tips on two of the most common, simplest but potentially deadliest issues: Falls and bed sores (pressure ulcers).
Next issue, we’ll talk about three more key problems to watch out for:
* Medication errors.
* Blood clot prevention.
Two potentially deadly but preventable harms: Falls and bed sores
Falls: Falls are often the beginning of the end for a healthy elderly person. In the hospital, the most common cause of a fall is no surprise: the patient has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, in an unfamiliar place, and may have medicines on board that add to confusion and wooziness. They punch the call button. The nurse never seems to come. So they try to negotiate the trip on their own. And the predictable happens. To make sure this never happens, the family member functions as a private-duty nurse. If you don’t feel comfortable helping the patient, make sure they stay in the bed until the nurse or the aide shows up. It’s that simple.
Bed sores or pressure ulcers. If your patient is immobile, the hospital needs a regular routine for turning them to prevent sores that turn into gaping wounds that can kill. Find out what the schedule is and enforce it. And you can gently inspect your loved one for early signs of sores – often just a red rash. The two most common areas are the tail bone (sacrum) just above the gluteal cleft, and the heels, because they become pressure points in immobile people. A nickel-sized sore can turn into a painful ulcerated wound with breathtaking speed.
Next newsletter: More Preventable harms: Wrong medicine, infections, blood clots.
But if you cannot wait for my next newsletter, the best nutshell advice is this: Prevention starts with knowing there’s a big risk and finding out what is the plan. And if there’s no specific plan, the hospital needs to implement one. That applies to preventing blood clots, a huge killer of hospitalized patients, heading off deadly infections, and making sure the patient gets the right medicines each time.
To your continued health!
Patrick Malone & Associates