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Consumer Watch: Personal health tips for any hospital visit

August 29, 2016

Ellen PhillipsSSArticle courtesy of Ellen Phillips for the Times Free Press.

Consumer Watch’s May 5 column centered on finding good docs and the best practices. Since that time, I, my husband and a couple of friends entered the hospital for surgeries that didn’t necessarily end very pleasantly. (Note: Parkridge was not the guilty facility.) To avoid any “twinship” with these folks, I urge readers to follow my Rigorous Rules for (Hospital) Recovery.

* Come to medical appointments armed with information about your condition or treatment. Knowing which questions to ask helps you feel at ease, and it may save your life. A couple of years ago AARP reported a frightening statistic: the number of patients who die each year from preventable hospital errors is equal to four full jumbo jets crashing each week. Let’s take action to make sure these “jets” land crash-free.

* Make sure that you’re never left alone, especially if you’re unconscious or doped up so you can’t make rational decisions. If you’re unable to speak for yourself, have a friend or family member with you at all times (and make sure that person follows these suggestions). If this isn’t possible, then make a really quick friend of the hospital’s patient representative. A hospital stay makes it truly imperative for someone to act as your advocate.

* Insist that anyone with whom you come in contact has clean hands. While this cleanliness standard should be a given, it isn’t necessarily so. Healthcare folks hurry along and may not take time to wash their hands or to change to clean gloves before touching you. (You certainly don’t want to be struck with the likes of MRSA or any other preventable infection.)Hospitals notoriously are the germiest places around. Don’t feel you’ll insult the doctors, nurses, technicians and the like if you insist they clean their hands. Make cleanliness in your entire room a priority.

* Use disinfectant wipes on “high-contact surfaces” that you might touch — the rolling table surface, chair armrests, bed railings, phone, call button and the TV remote. These are often overlooked by the janitorial staff. Three-quarters of patients’ rooms are often contaminated with bacteria that can cause staph infections. Bring your own disinfectant wipes, also available on every hospital floor. (Many hospitals in larger cities are now utilizing “robot maids” to clean and disinfect hospital rooms. If yours doesn’t have access to this great innovation, and your room is really dirty, ask the hospital’s “environmental services” to come clean it.)

* Create a master medication list. Keep a numbered list that includes drug name, prescribing physician, schedule with dosages, what day you started and stopped, and why you are taking every drug, (for example, “blood pressure”). This list will be the record of all medications you are prescribed during your stay and can be used to check against hospital and insurance bills. If you’re unsure, a nurse can help “translate” instructions and abbreviations into plain language so that you understand exactly what is going into your body and why. It’s imperative to know your daily medication schedule; your hospital bracelet should be checked each time you are given any medication and, in fact, the new computerized scan is probably the best medicine around to avoid med mix-up.

* Use the nurses’ “Five Rights” checklist for safe medication. Every time you are given medication: make sure it is the right time/schedule, right drug, right dosage, right route (i.e. injection, IV, oral, topical) and the right patient — you! Don’t just swallow any medicine given to you or blindly accept every test. Insist that you (or your advocate) know why the medication or the test is ordered and who ordered it.

* Make sure the hospital pharmacist receives a copy of the doctor’s orders rather than a verbal communication and that you receive a copy, too. Immediately notify the physician and/or the pharmacist if you develop any new symptoms upon taking the new meds. And don’t allow a nurse to ramrod you into continuing the dosage until it’s approved.

* It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion on any test interpretations. Misreading tests is a common occurrence in many hospitals and, if you’re not sure about your diagnosis or treatment, a second opinion allows you to explore all your treatment options. Don’t worry that your doctor will be offended. Most doctors don’t mind second opinions. (And if he or she does mind, something is wrong.)

* Keep track of names, for yourself and for the nurses and other attendants. Names are the first thing to go in the hospital setting: “Oh, that’s Bed 19, the gall bladder” (yours truly a couple of weeks ago.) Using names is the best defense you have against feeling indistinctive and dehumanized and is a reminder to everyone that you are a person first and a patient second. In fact, express thanks often to your doctors, nurses and aides for their help in caring for you. Verbal expressions of gratitude (and maybe a box of candy for each shift) goes a long way towards fostering meaningful human connections with your care team.

Photo by Contributed Photo via Times Free Press.