“More Americans were dying every year from the care they received in hospitals, than from all the diseases put together that sent them to the hospital,” says Hon. Kathleen G. Sebelius, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while reflecting on the landmark “To Err is Human” report of 1999. Since then some progress has been made, but not much. To improve your safety while hospitalized it’s important to assume some of the responsibility for your own care. Also, research shows that well-informed patients make better decisions about their care and are more likely to be satisfied with the results of their surgery.
Ask questions – Don’t ever be afraid to ask tough questions of your doctors. They should welcome your queries. If they respond with jargon or an answer that flies over your head, feel free to ask them to explain. Bring along a friend or family member to help you make sense of everything. That way there’s also less pressure to have to remember everything yourself.
Download Having Surgery? – A guide written by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that lists the major questions to ask, such as “What if I don’t have this operation?” and “What kind of anesthesia will I need?” as well as the reasons why you should ask these questions.
Get a second opinion – Most operations are non-emergencies, which gives you the time to ask questions and prepare for a safe procedure. Always take your time making the decision to have surgery and seek a second opinion before committing.
Choosing a surgeon and hospital – Ask your insurance provider whether you can choose your own surgeon or hospital or if you’re forced to select theirs. If you can choose, ask your doctor which hospital gets the best results for your particular condition. According to the AHRQ, surgeons or hospitals who perform a specific surgery often are more likely to yield better results.
Choose a patient advocate – If you can’t find a volunteer who is knowledgeable enough to provide decision-making assistance or has enough time to spend monitoring your situation, find a paid advocate. Search for a patient advocate in your area using the AdvoConnection website.
Improve safety with a checklist – SCOAP is a surgical checklist designed to prevent medical errors in hospitals. It’s your right to receive the safest care possible so ask if your hospital uses the SCOAP checklist. If not, you can find a hospital that does: www.surgicalchecklist.org. This service should come standard at no extra charge to you. Once finding the right hospital, confirm whether your surgeon uses the list. If not, print out the list from the website and give it to him.
Keep a medicine list – Keep a list of all the prescription and non-prescription medicines you take. Give that list to your doctor and tell him about any drug allergies or past adverse drug events that you have had.
Inform yourself about your condition – Associations exist for pretty much all diseases out there and are a great source of patient information. Focus your search at the library, which has quality medical reference materials. The Internet is also a great resource if you find the right websites. To improve your odds of finding quality material online, use Healthfinder.
For more specific information about alternative treatments and for personal referrals, try finding organized groups of patients who have your condition. Ask around at your hospital or do a search online to find these groups.
photo courtesy linder6580
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Five Steps to Safer Health Care
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Having Surgery?
SCOAP: Surgical Checklist Initiative
The Empowered Patient Coalition
Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS I Need an Operation…Now What? (American College of Surgeons: Chicago, 2008)