As I sat in the emergency room of our local hospital with my twelve year old daughter this past weekend waiting for doctors to figure out why she could not breathe properly, I had the opportunity to watch a myriad of patients come and go with all sorts of maladies. Oddly, although most emergencies in this local rural hospital were not gun-shot wounds or stabbing injuries, many, many patients were elderly and in serious distress. It crossed my mind, "What happened to all these people that they needed to come to the emergency room at two in the morning?"
With a bit of research, the answer - beyond the obvious ones of falls, heart attacks, or strokes - came out to be a result of medical errors. The mistakes came in the form of medication errors and errors in practice by physician, hospital staff, and yes, patients themselves.
Below are some tips on how to best curb those errors and reduce the 15,000 or so elderly hospitalized patients in the US every month from medical errors.
According to an article written on March 4, 2008 on http://agingparentsauthority.com, medical errors are the 8th leading cause of death in the US. With this gruesome fact in mind, here are some tips (from the same article) that might help in reducing that number:
1. Be an advocate for your parent. Consider having a private care provider stay in the hospital with your parent.
2. Meet with your parent's doctor and hospital staff. Get to know all the staff responsible for caring for your parent.
3. Find out every test and procedure to be done. Ask why specific tests have been ordered and what those results are. Don't allow anyone to come into your parent's room without knowing the reason for their visit.
4. Get a list of all your parent's medications. Know what they are, what they are for, and the interaction with each other.
5. Research your parent's condition. In today's world with such easy access the Internet, finding out detailed information about specific medical conditions should be relatively simple; with the least result being you will become more educated allowing you to ask
more detailed questions.
6. Be cooperative with the staff, but don't be afraid to speak up or ask questions. Paying attention to staff's behaviors is not a bad thing to do, especially if you notice a staff not washing his/her hands prior to treating your parent.
7. Meet with the surgeon and anesthesiologist before any surgery. Make sure you know what and how the surgery is projected to go.
8. Watch for any warning signs that your parent's condition may be changing. Monitor your parent for any changes in attitude, complaints, etc., and bring those issues up with the medical staff immediately.
Most, if not all, medical errors are mistakes, not acts committed intentionally. Although this fact is of little condolence when something actually does happen to your parent or loved one, with a certain amount of due diligence and assertiveness, you and your parent should be able to have a safe and success hospital stay. Remember, we are all human and mistakes happen, but for the most part we do have a certain amount of control over what happens to us - take control and reduce medical errors in our elder population.