It's a fact of life: people checking into the hospital face risks. Expecting
to get better, some actually wind up getting worse.
We've all heard the horror stories about hospital risks after surgery.
There's the danger of medical complications, like bleeding or infection. Then
there are the human errors, like getting the wrong drug or dosage. "Even
though you've got a lot of well-trained people in a hospital working very hard,
they're still people," says Fran Griffin, RRT, MPA, a director at the
Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass. "And people
sometimes make mistakes."
All these hospital risks can seem far beyond your control. It can leave you
feeling pretty helpless.
But experts say that's not the case. "Patients are just too passive when
they check into the hospital," says Peter B. Angood, MD, vice president and
chief patient safety officer of the Joint Commission in Oakbridge Terrace, Ill.
According to Angood and other experts, taking an active role in your health
care can reduce many of these hospital risks. While you might feel out
of control when you go into the hospital, you're really not.
So what can you do to cut your risks? Here's a list of the six top hospital
risks and -- more importantly -- what you can do to avoid them.
Hospital Risk No. 1: Medication Errors
"Far and away, the most serious hospital risk is a medication error," says
Carolyn Clancy, MD, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
(AHRQ) in Rockville, Md. "All it takes is for someone to miss a decimal
point and you could have a life-threatening mistake."
A 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine estimated that every year,
there are 450,000 injuries resulting from medication errors in hospitals, and
perhaps many more that are unreported. What's especially frightening about
these hospital risks is they "seem" completely beyond your control. How
would you even know what medicines you need, or how much, or how often? How can
you stop a doctor's poor handwriting on a prescription from being misread by a
pharmacist or nurse?
But there are things you can do to reduce this hospital risk. Before
surgery, you need to make sure that your doctor, your surgeon, and everyone
else involved in your care know about every single medicine -- whether
prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal supplement -- that you use. To make
it easier, you can just stick all of your medicines in a bag and bring them to
Then, after surgery, ask questions. When a nurse comes to give you medicine,
ask what it is and why you need it, says Dale Bratzler, DO, MPH, medical
director at the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality in Oklahoma City. Make
sure the nurse checks your ID bracelet against the name on the
"If you ever feel like something's wrong, you have to speak up,"
says Griffin. She's talked to nurses who said that they were about to
administer the wrong medication or dose and were only stopped because the
patient asked them to double-check." Just by saying something, they averted
what could have been very serious medication errors," Griffin says.