Seven Things to Know Before Going to the Hospital

By Carrie Mortrud, RN

Carrie Mortrud, RN

PATIENTS ARE NOT CUSTOMERS.  In the book, First, Do Less Harm, the authors highlight a few problems in health care that are risking patient safety, one being the idea that patients are customers of health care and hospitals.

Their point was that is assuming patients have access to all necessary data, pricing, risk etc. AND have the luxury of time to make comparisons and then an informed decision. They noted it really is still the role and responsibility of the health care professional to protect patients because indeed they cannot protect themselves in an industry they know little about and are so vulnerable during the entire process. Ever since I first heard a hospital administrator refer to a patient as a customer I instantly feel nauseous.

That being said, if you do have time to hospital shop, compare care and prices, here are a few things I feel you should know before you go.

1. It is important that you and a loved one advocate for your safety and quality care at all times.

Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. “Something like 2 to 3 percent of people who go into the hospital are going to have some pretty severe harm as a result,” says Don Berwick, the Obama administration’s former Medicare administrator. “Australian studies show that the rate might be as high as 12 percent. The harder you look, and the more you study the issue, the more errors you find.”

Medical errors happen, and as hospitals cut corners around staffing, more are likely to occur.

2. Check to see if your hospital has been penalized for patient injuries, and ask what they are doing to remedy the issue.

Last year, seven Minnesota hospitals lost a portion of Medicare payments due to high rates of patient injuries. You have a right to know why, and if the hospital is addressing issues such as short staffing to reduce patient injuries.

3. Ask your hospital about its nurse-to-patient ratio in your unit, and how often it meets its own standards for ensuring that ratio.

In 2016, Minnesota nurses submitted more Concern for Safe Staffing forms than any year on record, citing incidents were patient care was at risk or compromised because the hospital did not schedule enough nurses for duty.

As hospitals across the state cut corners to focus on profits, short staffing by hospitals is becoming a widespread and problematic issue.

4. Bedsores, or pressure ulcers, are a serious problem at many hospitals.

One report says that 500,000 people are hospitalized each year for bed sores that are the result of the previous care they received. The number of people at risk for bed sores is growing as the number of elderly people increase.

Studies show a direct link between safe nurse-to-patient ratios and a reduction in pressure ulcers. Ensuring your hospital unit is safely staffed will help to reduce the risk of bedsores.

5. Your medications generally should be administered 30 minutes before or 30 minutes after they are scheduled.

 In a recent survey of Minnesota nurses, 45 percent said patient pain was prolonged due to short staffing by hospitals. Make sure to advocate for the care you deserve. Tell hospital administration if short staffing has caused delay to your care.

6. Someone should respond to your call light within five minutes of activation.

Nursing standards say that this is ideal, and helps ensure patients receive the safe, quality care they deserve. If your nurses cannot respond to your call lights, they might be short staffed. Talk to hospital administration if you feel like you are not receiving the quality care you deserve.

7. Know your discharge instructions, and ask questions to make sure you can follow the care at home.

Before you leave the hospital, a registered nurse should perform your discharge education and instructions. You have the right to spend time with the nurse asking questions and ensuring you can easily follow instructions for your home care.

Patient Story

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