To err is human, the saying goes. But to err in medical care can be devastating. Medical errors are one of the nation’s leading causes of death and injury. The Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year in U.S. hospitals as the result of these errors.
“The number of people that die from medical errors is comparable to and may even exceed those that die as a result of motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS,” says Eugene Sun, M.D., M.B.A., vice president of medical affairs for HealthAmerica. “There is a tremendous impact to families who lose loved ones, and the direct and indirect costs are in the billions of dollars. And we all pay some of the price.”
Smart Business spoke to Sun about how you and your employees can play a role in health care safety.
We hear that most medicine errors involve the wrong drug or the wrong dose. How can we avoid medical errors from prescription drugs?
Make sure that all the physicians who may be caring for you know about every medicine and supplement you are taking. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and any vitamins and herbals. At least once a year, bring all of your medicines and supplements with you to your primary care doctor. Always ask for written information about the side effects your medicine could cause.
When your doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read your doctor’s handwriting. If you can’t read your doctor’s handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either. Also make sure you understand what each medicine is for.
If you have any questions about the directions on your medicine labels, ask. Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For example, ask if ‘four doses daily’ means taking a dose every six hours around the clock or taking it just during regular waking hours.
If you take any liquid medications, ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure it, and make sure you know how to use it. Research shows that many people do not understand the right way to measure liquid medicines. For example, many use household teaspoons, which often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid.
What can we do to make hospital stays safer?
If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who have direct contact with you whether they have washed their hands. Hand-washing is not done regularly or thoroughly enough.
When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home. Doctors think their patients understand more than they really do about what they should or should not do when they return home.
What are some other steps we should take?
Always be involved in your health care.
The most important way you can help to prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team. Research shows that patients who are involved with their health care tend to have better outcomes.
Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care. Make sure that all health professionals involved have important health information about you. Do not assume that everyone knows everything they need to.
If you have a test, don’t assume that no news is good news. Ask about the results. Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources. For example, treatment recommendations are available from the National Guidelines Clearing-house at www.guideline.gov.
Ask a family member or friend to be there with you and to be your advocate. Even if you think you don’t need help now, you might need it later.
For the full list of tips from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), visit www.ahrq.gov/consumer/ 20tips.pdf for a patient fact sheet titled ‘20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors.’
The AHRQ has another patient fact sheet especially for children. Called ‘20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors in Children,’ it provides practical steps that parents can take to protect their children with prescription medications, hospital stays, surgery and general medical care. Find it at www.ahrq.gov/consumer/20tipkid.htm.
Source: Redspring Communications Inc.
EUGENE SUN, M.D., M.B.A., is vice president of medical affairs for HealthAmerica. Reach him at email@example.com or (412) 553-7549.