B Carrie Mortrud, RN
When you or a loved one go to a hospital, it’s hard to know what to expect, especially if it’s your first visit. At some hospitals, high-quality amenities like plush linens or big screen TVs come with the room. While these new additions might make patients feel cozy and at home, it’s hard to know if you’re receiving the quality medical care you deserve.
Sure, the TV is nice. But how do you know nurses have the time and resources needed to care for you during your stay? How do you know that the highest standards for your care are being met? How do you know your care is safe, and that your medical care is as good your amenities?
First, patient safety is essential to quality care—prevention of harm should always be a constant part of your care. In addition, quality care must be timely, efficient, and focused on making you better. Yet it’s hard to know what that looks like when medical care is hard for the average person to wrap their head around, and so much prevention and focus is happening on a checklist you can’t see or through detailed plans and procedures that take place outside your hospital room.
But as a patient, there are things you can ask about before you go to the hospital, and there are standards you can look for and ask for inside your room to ensure you are receiving quality care during your hospital stay.
Remember: Every patient deserves safe, quality care. If you aren’t receiving it, ask why.
1. If it’s possible, before scheduling your surgery, ask the hospital what the nurse-to-patient ratio is for that medical floor. Ask if will be the same for the day of your surgery. And ask how often it isn’t at safe levels—and then ask why. In many cases, hospitals in Minnesota are cutting corners by not scheduling enough nurses for duty. Numerous studies show that safe, adequate nurse staffing is essential to quality care.
2. Check your hospital’s safety rating, and check if they disclosed their nurse-to-patient ratios. Minnesota now ranks 32nd in the nation for patient safety. What’s more, only a handful of hospitals reported their nurse staffing levels to the Hospital Safety Score. If your hospital didn’t report it, ask why.
3. When you turn on your call light, a nurse should answer it, often via an intercom, within the first few minutes. In general, they should be able to respond to a medical need right away. For other issues, nurses should have the time and staff to be able to respond to other needs within 20 or so minutes. If not, this could be because not enough nurses are scheduled for duty that day. Ask why.
4. Your medications should be given on time, every time. That means no longer than 30 minutes before or after a scheduled dose. Make sure you or a loved one is keeping track of your schedule, and if you have breakthrough pain because medications were given more than 30 minutes late, ask why.
5. If you or a loved one are a fall risk or need someone to help you get to the restroom, a qualified nurse or staff member should be there to help you. If not, ask why.
6. If your care requires walking in the hallway for healing/exercise or assistance with breathing exercises, a nurse or nursing assistant should help you at the time needed. If there are lengthy delays, ask why.
7. You should be given clear discharge instructions in your room by a nurse. You will have an opportunity to go over everything thoroughly with a nurse, and will be able to ask any questions. Clear instructions and communication are essential for healthy outcomes. If you do not receive these instructions from a nurse when visiting your room, you are not receiving the quality care you need to heal and get better at home. If a nurse appears too busy to go over discharge instructions with you, ask why.
Remember, safe nurse staffing levels are directly connected to reduced risk of falls, infections, complications, and mortality. If your hospital isn’t safely staffed, you deserve to know why, and to demand safe, quality care.