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6 tips for staying safe in the hospital

Consumer Reports News: July 12, 2012 03:38 PM

At least 180,000 people a year die in the hospital each year in part because of medical harm, and another 1.4 million are seriously injured by it, according to government projections. Our new safety Ratings might help you avoid the same fate, by allowing you to compare the hospitals in your area.

But you need to take steps to protect yourself wherever you go, since our Ratings show that bad things can happen even in the best hospitals. "The best advice I can give is to be your own advocate," says Peter Pronovost, M.D., senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. "Question, question, question until things are explained in a way you understand. A health-care system that doesn't address your concerns is a risky one."

Our Hospital Survival Guide provides advice for a safe hospital stay, from check-in to discharge. Here are six of the most important tips:

1. Bring a friend or family member. He or she can help monitor your care and assert your needs and preferences, ask questions, record the answers, hold onto copies of key documents, and advocate for you if problems arise. Ideally, your companion should help you during check-in and discharge, and visit daily, especially in the evening and on weekends and holidays. Make sure someone in authority has the name of your companion and his or her phone number and e-mail address.

2. Guard against infection. Insist that anyone who touches you washes his or her hands first. In addition, ask every day if catheters and ventilators are still necessary, as the risk of infection increases whey they are left in place for more than two to three days.

3. Watch your drugs. Make a list of all of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take, as well as the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other dietary supplements. Bring multiple copies of the list with you so doctors and pharmacists in the hospital there can check for interactions or duplicates with medication you start taking while there.

4. Get moving. That can help prevent bedsores and blood clots that can form in leg veins, and also helps get your bowels moving. So when you're up to it, ask your nurse, or a friend or relative, to help you out of bed. If you have to spend a lot of time in bed, ask for special pads that help prevent bedsores, and "pneumatic" stockings that can help prevent blood clots.

5. Get ready to go home. Usually, the sooner you get home the better. So start planning for your discharge as soon as possible, and make sure you understand what you need to do once you get home. But you shouldn't go home if you feel disoriented, faint, or unsteady; have pain that's not controlled by oral medication; can't go to the bathroom unassisted; can't urinate or move your bowels; or can't keep food or drink down.

6. Check our hospital Ratings. Our updated hospital Ratings include safety scores for 1,159 hospitals nationwide, based on six key categories: avoiding infections, unnecessary readmissions, and unnecessary radiation from CT scans; communication about new drugs and discharge plans; and rates for serious complications and mortality from certain diseases. The Ratings also include some information on more than 3,000 other hospitals.

See our story How Safe Is Your Hospital?. And watch our video on surviving a hospital stay.

Joel Keehn

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