How safe do you feel as a patient?
Some years ago, experts estimated that in U.S. up to 98,000 people die each year from medical errors that could have been avoided. Many others may have been less seriously injured. In Canada and other developed countries the figures are proportionally no different.
There is no doubt that health care professionals work hard to provide safe and high quality medical care. But errors occur and there are many reasons for that. We cannot cover them all here but we can discuss few in terms of how you, as a patient, can stay safe.
Your safety, first of all, depends on your identification. Make sure your name and current address is correctly spelled and written, your date of birth is correct and your health insurance plan number on the card is correctly copied.
If you Google your name on the Internet you will find there are many people in the world who bear the same name as yours. In our office we have several patients with identical names. We have to be very careful that we do not mix their reports or give them wrong treatment. We feel checking the name, address, date of birth and health care insurance card number is very important. In the hospital, make sure your wrist band has correct information.
One thing which bothers me a lot is how dates are written by various people, organizations, departments, hospitals and doctors’ offices. The way I like to write is month in alphabets followed by day and year in numerical (June 10/08). This creates no confusion. Can you imagine people writing the same date in various different ways: 6/10/08 or 10/6/08 or 08/10/6? I think it is ridiculous and dangerous that we allow so many different ways to write dates.
Medication errors are not uncommon. There are many medications which have similar sounding names. You should always carry in your purse or wallet a list of medications you take. When you visit a doctor (who is not your regular doctor) you should take all your medications with you. Each year, during your annual physical, take with you all your pills and review with your doctor the necessity of continuing to take them. Also make sure your allergies are recorded properly.
You run the risk of picking up infection in every health care setting. To minimize the risk take necessary precautions. Wash your hands before and after your visit to a health facility. Just like washing your hands before and after you eat. Shower and wear clean clothes before your visit. With snow and rain, we tend to carry lot of dirt on our shoes. Most health care facilities request patients to remove wet and dirty shoes before they go in the examination rooms. Some facilities provide shoe covers. There is no guaranteed way to prevent infection. But each person, including health care providers, has responsibility to minimize the risk of infection.
What about complications from surgical procedures and invasive investigations? All procedures carry risks. Risks vary from minor to major like death. Before going through a procedure, you should discuss with your health care provider your expectation of the outcome. In return, the health care provider will explain to you the procedure and its likely complications. Make sure the site of surgery is marked with indelible ink so you do not end up getting a wrong foot amputated or a wrong side hernia repaired or a healthy knee replaced. In your follow-up visit make sure you get the results of all your tests and procedures.
Finally, carry a copy of your health history. It should contain your personal and medical information as discussed earlier including your family history. Being safe is being healthy.
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