Since medical errors in hospitals have been widely discussed for years, you would think that things would have improved by now. Well, they haven't. In fact, a new study shows that your risk of being injured, receiving the wrong drug or acquiring an infection in the hospital is no less than it was in 1999.

Why haven't things improved? Research shows that most hospitals have not implemented key processes that are necessary to improve the safety of hospital patients, such as hand-washing protocols for staff...computerized medication-monitoring and ordering systems...and electronic medical record systems that help alert staff to possible mistakes before they occur.

But even if all hospitals aren't yet doing things right, you can dramatically curb your chances of becoming the victim of a hospital mistake. What to do the next time you or a loved one is hospitalized…

  • Take control of your medications. In the US, more than 400,000 people are seriously harmed each year by preventable hospital medication errors (such as wrong dosages and/ or wrong drugs). Even though most hospitals currently check to see if you are the patient who is supposed to receive the drug and note in your file what drug is being administered, a more effective way to prevent errors is to ask the nurse to write down, on a sheet of paper that you bring and keep at your bedside, the drug being given, the time it is given and the dosage. If there are any changes, ask who ordered the change before you take the medicine.

Insider secret: You also have the right to bring your own meds from home to protect yourself against getting the wrong drug.

  • Make sure you don't get a used medical device. Up to 10% of all hospital patients acquire infections during their hospital stays. That's why we've all been told to insist that no one touch us without washing his/her hands and changing gloves in our presence. However, some hospitals are also putting their patients at risk by reusing medical devices that are meant to be used only once, such as catheters, as a way to save money. Hospitals do clean these devices in between uses—but in many cases, the cleaning methods are ineffective and may result in life-threatening infections. That's why you should ask whether any device that is about to be used on you is designed for "single use." If so, insist that it be taken out of the original package in front of you.
  • Use your case manager. Mistakes often occur because hospital patients may not see the same nurse more than once during their stays. That's why all hospitals now employ case managers (a nurse, social worker or physician's assistant) who help oversee the consistency of patient care. Ask to meet your case manager when you are admitted to the hospital. Get his direct phone number, and call whenever you have a question that is not being answered. He can be your watchdog-and a great way to get in touch with your doctor very quickly.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in