By Cindy Thomas, RN, BSN, Patient Advocate and Care Manager
Learn How Patient Advocates Can Help Keep You Safe
Let me explain why having a professional RN Patient Advocate with you in the hospital can help you stay safe and get the care you deserve! When we are sick or need surgery and need to go to the hospital it is our goal to come out better than when we went in. We expect our medical problems to be solved and feel better, right?
Unfortunately, that goal is not always achieved with patients seeking care in our hospitals today. Many innocent and trusting patients are harmed or subsequently die while being treated in the hospital. It is not that our hard-working doctors or nurses are bad. These problems are occurring because healthcare is overburdened with patients who have more serious and chronic illnesses than ever before, and our hospital system is fragmented and that puts your care in jeopardy. Gone are the days that your family doctor is overseeing your care in the hospital. I will explain more what type of errors are occurring in my 3 Hospital Dangers list below.
The Unexpected Does Happen – Putting You at Risk
I know from personal experience that unexpected complications can and do occur. I lost my sister from a missed diagnosis five years ago. She was only 50 years old. When the correct medical problem was discovered it was too late for my sister. She passed away within hours. I was beyond frustrated and shocked. I couldn’t believe this could happen in the best medical system in the world! I have been a nurse for nearly 25 years and believed in our healthcare system. It was from this personal tragedy that I became a RN Patient Advocate and Care Manager.
Why You Need a Patient Advocate
It goes without saying… but I am going to say it anyway! Patients need a professional Patient Advocate when going to the hospital. You need someone that understands medical procedures, protocol and the innerworkings of the hospital. We used to be able to have a close family member help when we were in the hospital. However, if that person does not have medical expertise how can they know if something is going wrong? How can they provide you with treatment options if they don’t know what those options are? Having a RN Patient Advocate that is overseeing your care is an investment in your health.
You’ll have a safeguard in place that gives you peace of mind knowing you are receiving the best care and hopefully the best outcomes. I have seen mistakes made in the hospital that could have had dire consequences. I am glad that they brought me on board to help them. It is an additional cost, but your health and well-being are worth it. You can see some of their stories on my website.
I am going to talk to you about three serious hospital patient safety issues that can harm or lead to your or a loved one’s death. My goal is not to scare you but to educate and empower you with knowledge about patient safety. When you or your loved one goes into the hospital I hope that you will consider hiring a professional patient advocate to help keep you safe and supported. You will not regret it!
1. Misdiagnosis or Medical Error
As I mentioned above I lost my sister to a misdiagnosis. I really had not realized the danger that she was in. I trusted and believed that she was getting the best care possible and never in a million years did we think she would die while in the hospital.
Patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins University suggest that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death within the U.S., causing over 250,000 deaths per year.
This study reveals that medical errors caused by fragmented medical care and lack of patient care coordination are the main problem. It is not that doctors or nurses are to blame, they do have your best interest at heart. On any given day a patient will see the doctor who is coordinating their care (hospitalist) and also consulting specialists. One way a Patient Advocate can help minimize errors is making sure that these physicians are communicating your care plan effectively.
Steps to take if You Have Experienced a Medical Error
Patients and their families are usually unaware of what to do if they believe they have experienced a medical error. It can be uncomfortable to bring it up but that is exactly what patients should do. Problems cannot be addressed or corrected if they are not brought into the light.
What steps should you take if you believe you have experienced a medical, medication or medical device error or side effect. Start with the physician, nurse and hospital administration where you can make a formal complaint. Here is a list of resources of where to find help.
- One of your patient rights under federal law is that you are made aware of the hospital’s complaint process. Here is a list of your Patient Bill of Rights. https://www.hhs.gov/answers/health-care/what-are-my-health-care-rights/index.html
- Hospital complaints are addressed at the accreditation level through The Joint Commission. jointcommission.org
- Nursing complaints are addressed through the state nursing board. https://www.ncsbn.org/contact-bon.htm
- Physician complaints are addressed through the state medical board. https://www.fsmb.org/contact-a-state-medical-board
- Medication errors or serious side effects as well as medical device complaints. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/index.cfm?action=reporting.home
2. Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), estimates that a patient in the hospital today has a 1 in 25 chance of getting an infection from their healthcare team or treatment.
One of the most common reasons for infection is from lack of hand hygiene or basic handwashing from your healthcare team. That includes doctors, nurses, others on your healthcare team and your personal visitors that come to your room. Bacteria can be carried on the hands of people and transmitted to you. You can also pick up bacteria on the hands of healthcare workers when you leave your room for a procedure or test.
How to Minimize Your Risk of Hospital Acquired Infections
It is very important that you or someone that is advocating for you ask all persons who enter your room to wash their hands. I know this can be uncomfortable for patents to say to their healthcare team including their doctors and nurses. Many patients feel embarrassed to ask or feel they will upset their doctor or nurse. Please know that your doctor and nurse already know how important it is to use approved hand cleanser or to wash their hands when they enter your room. Some healthcare workers may say that they just washed their hands right before they came to your room. They also know that the protocol is to sanitize or wash hands in front of the patient in the room.
See this video on hand hygiene and learn how to ask your healthcare team to please cleanse their hands before they touch you.
A professional Nurse Advocate can be the liaison between you and your healthcare team. I can speak up for you and help make sure that your care is safe.
3. Patient Engagement and Empowerment for the Safest Hospital Stay
Many patients who are very sick and have been admitted to the ER or the hospital leave their healthcare decisions up to the doctor or others on the team. However, studies show that the best patient satisfaction and medical outcomes are when patients are an integral part of their medical decisions and care. Especially when your voice and wishes are heard and respected.
When patients are not engaged in the decision-making process regarding their healthcare the outcomes are less favorable. Patient Advocates empower you to take charge of your care through education, medical expertise and advocating on your behalf. This can minimize medical errors, misdiagnosis and longer hospital stays. Sometimes very sick patients are unable to communicate to their doctors about their medical issue or forget to mention medications that they are on or have had reactions to and that can lead to negative outcomes.
How Can You Be Engaged in Your Care?
- Understand informed consent for any hospital procedure or surgery.
- Have a clear understanding of your diagnosis, options and treatment plan.
- Know what questions to ask so you are receiving the best medical treatment options and feel comfortable with the decisions.
- Convey to your healthcare team all your medical history, past medication reactions, surgeries or diagnosis.
- Feeling comfortable speaking up for yourself when you feel like something isn’t going right or you have questions that have not been addressed.
How a Profession RN Patient Advocate can Help You Stay Safe and Supported
According to Aranzmedical, patient engagement “encourages patients to make informed choices, use medication safely, consistently use infection control precautions, observe care processes, practice self-management, and know when to report complications. All of this translates into measurable improvements in quality and safety in an organization as you have staff, patients and visitors all working together to keep quality and safety standards high.”
As a Professional Patient Advocate I cannot agree more with the above statement. One the most important factors keeping you safe in the hospital is YOU. Being actively involved in your care will allow you to have a say in the the treatment options and stay in control of your healthcare journey. Hiring an RN Patient Advocate that can help you understand your diagnosis, treatment options and advocate for your best care is one of the best decisions you will make for your well-being. Here is how a RN Patient Advocate care help:
- Help ensure good communication within the healthcare team.
- Be a liaison between you and your healthcare team.
- Advocate for safe and efficient care for you by empowering you to be your own best advocate.
- Educate you on your diagnosis, treatment options, procedures and informed consent.
- Mitigate medical errors by creating a patient-centric environment where you are an integral part of the decision making and care plan.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and understand that medical care has changed in the last several years. Because the healthcare team has become so specialized you may see many doctors and nurses over the course of your stay. It is important that the lines of communication are open and clear. Some medical errors happen when there is a breakdown in communication. It is my goal to ensure that everyone involved in your care are on the same page and that you receive the best care possible. Let’s get you back home as quickly and safely as possible.
Call me today or use the form below for your free 30-minute consult and learn how I can help you.
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“10 Top Patient Safety Issues for 2015.” Becker’s Hospital Review, 10 Dec. 2014, www.beckershospitalreview.com