According to a new Johns Hopkins study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, four out of 10 doctors working in U.S. hospitals said they are overworked. One out of five said that their patient load could threaten the safety of patients. What the article didn’t include is that nurses are also overworked too.
195,000 hospitalized patients die each year due to preventable in-hospital medical errors.
No one wants to go into the hospital, especially in the face of overworked doctors and nurses. Sometimes we have to or a loved does. Right now, a relative of mine is in a hospital across the country. I do worry about the possible medical errors that could affect him. Two days ago, he told me that the nurse-to-patient ratio was nine to one, meaning there are nine patients to every nurse. Higher patient-to-nurse ratios are connected to higher mortality rates for patients, not to mention increased burnout and dissatisfaction for nurses.
So, what are patients and loved ones to do? As I’ve said in my books, Critical Conditions: The Essential Hospital Guide to Get Your Loved One Out Alive and The Take-Charge Patient, I don’t believe that most hospitalized patients can advocate for themselves. They are recovering, ill, injured, sedated and more. Every hospitalized patient needs an advocate, whether that be a loved one or professional caregiver to oversee and monitor care, have face-to-face meetings with physicians and nurses, and to act as a watch dog for a patient, especially patients who are particularly vulnerable such as the elderly, patients with multiple medical conditions, and more.
If I were a patient in the hospital, the number one thing I would do is to ask a loved one or team of loved ones to be with me most of the time during my stay, especially on holiday weekends and evenings when nurse-to-patient ratios can increase, meaning there can be fewer nurses to care for patients.
What can you do?
1. Enlist an advocate. If you are a patient in the hospital or about to go into the hospital, enlist the help of a loved one, team of loved ones or professional caregiver to be with you most of the time.
2. Monitor your medications. Ask your loved one or caregiver to match a list of medications and dosages from your doctor to the medications that are being given to you. A polite question about which medication is being administered and the dosage is sufficient.
3. Ask everyone to wash his or her hands. This can be a little uncomfortable for many of us, but this can save lives. One out of every 20 hospitalized patients contracts an infection. You don’t want to be one of them. Many doctors and nurses do not wash their hands and a simple reminder can prevent the spread of hospital-acquired infections. Politely ask, “Would you please wash your hands before touching me?” HHS.gov for more information.
4. Keep a notebook. Ask your loved one or caregiver to write down what your doctors and nurses have said about your diagnosis, treatment plan and what comes next.
5. Prepare a list of questions for your doctors and nurses. Ask your loved one or caregiver to help you with this. Ask him/her to write down the answers.
6. If you are to have surgery or a procedure, make sure you repeat your patient information to each new medical provider and the name of the procedure/surgery you are to have. For example, you’ll want to mention your full name, birth date and the name and location of the procedure.
7. Humanize yourself as a patient. Ask your loved one or caregiver to assist with this if you are unable. You want your doctors and nurses to see you as a human being not as the shoulder surgery in room number 209.
8. Establish a personal connection with your medical providers. Find common ground such as you and the nurse both have children or grandchildren the same age or you both love dogs. Anything to further a personal connection with the person who is caring for you. You want that professional to remember you and to pay more attention.
No doctor or nurse commits medical errors on purpose. Many are in untenable positions with caring for too many patients or with excessive workloads. This is where families and other caregivers can assist the medical team to help prevent errors and infections. Patient safety is a team effort. Know what you can do. Get involved and be proactive.