2009-04-10 / Columnists

PHC Health Talk

Take Control Of Your Healthcare (Part 3)
Commentary by Howard L. Sussman, Md. / Chief of Surgery, Peninsula Hospital Center

DR. SUSSMAN DR. SUSSMAN In previous articles, we discussed steps you can take to become more involved in your own healthcare. This last installment about "taking control of your healthcare" deals with patient safety in the hospital.

The Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the principle agency which inspects and accredits hospitals, has put forth several "National Patient Safety Goals" which every hospital must have in place to earn this essential accreditation. Several of these impact directly on your hospital experience.

First and foremost of these is the correct identification of patients. Once you have become a patient in the hospital, you will be given an identification band that lists your name, birth date, hospital number, name of your physician and other information. Look at the ID band and be sure that the information is correct. Any time a patient goes for a test, has a procedure, or is given medication the caregivers must be sure that they have the right patient for the right procedure or medication. The patient's ID band is compared to the medication records, procedure schedule, consent form, or the orders for the laboratory test. Don't be alarmed if people keep asking your name and what test or procedure you are having; this is part of the patient safety protocol.

Don't be embarrassed about asking the nurse which medications you are being given and what they are for. Also, you should fully understand what tests you are going for and what your doctors hope to learn from the tests. Finally, what is your diagnosis and how is it being treated?

You, your doctors and nurses are all partners on your healthcare team. How can you help yourself to get better if you do not understand what is wrong with you or what the treatment is expected to accomplish? You have the right to know - and you have the obligation to ask — the risks, benefits and possible alternatives to your treatment, as well as potential complications. How likely is the treatment to be successful? What would happen if you did not have the treatment? You must be an informed patient so you can be an integral part of your treatment plan.

Hospitals are stressful places and you are under much stress just being there. Thus, it is vital to have someone with you to be a second set of ears advocating for you, listening to the information you are given. There is often a large amount of confusing information and unfamiliar terminology; hard enough to understand when you are well, and exceptionally difficult to digest when you are ill.

Another critically important area of patient safety is infection control. You will notice that many of the healthcare workers you encounter will be wearing gloves. These gloves protect the worker, not the patient and you should make certain that those gloves are changed for every patient … especially you. Ask. Healthcare providers are also expected to wash their

hands between seeing each patient, regardless of whether they are wearing gloves. Again, ask and insist that they have washed and put on a new pair of gloves before they touch you. Hospitals are busy places and the provider may innocently forget … it is your body and your health … you need to be vigilant.

When it is time to leave the hospital, you will be confronted with more questions. Are you well enough to go home? Will you need help at home? Would you benefit from a short stay at a rehabilitation facility? The discharge planners will review your needs and your options with you and your doctor.

At discharge, you will be given a list of instructions about your after care and, if necessary, a list of medications. It is important to understand these instructions and to compare this new list of medications with the list of medications you were taking when you came to the hospital.

Be sure to inform your doctor about those medications, and make certain you do not mix up or combine the two lists. The discharge instructions will include follow-up plans about when to see your doctor.

Make an appointment to see your physician and bring those discharge instructions so you can review what happened in the hospital and double check your medications.

And don't forget to write it all down in your journal.

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