6 tips from ‘The Patient’s Playbook’ for staying safe in the hospital

As much as we need them, hospitals can be dangerous places. Hospital-acquired conditions — everything from pneumonia and infections to bad reactions to medications — affect 12 out of every 100 patients. However, there are steps you can take to help keep you and your family safe. In “The Patient’s Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love,” author Leslie Michelson distills more than 30 years of experience as a case-management expert to teach readers how to get better care and avoid errors in every medical situation. Here are six things Michelson says you can do to stay safe during a hospital stay.

1. Review your chart. Is your name spelled correctly? Are your allergies noted? Is there any missing information? You have the right as a patient to see your chart and have any errors corrected. Remember, you’re in a vulnerable position. Don’t be reluctant to advocate for yourself. Say, “I have very specific allergies that are quite significant. I’d sleep much better tonight if I knew that they were in my chart. Can you do me a favor and just let me take a look at it?” People respond favorably when you’re reaching out as one human being to another.

2. Post your medical information. Tape a list next to your bed that spells out in large type: your diagnosis, current medications, allergies and any secondary medical issues that might be relevant to your current condition. For instance, are you diabetic? Do you have a stent in your heart? Both of these could become a factor if you have complications.

3. Monitor everything. Before you swallow pills, ask what they’re for, especially if it’s a new medication. Be alert to seemingly unnecessary tests. And if someone wants to wheel you away for a procedure you hadn’t been informed about, insist that it be confirmed first with your attending physician. As Michelson suggests, a firm but polite request is best. Say, “I was unaware that this is happening. I frankly don’t want to have it done until we can talk to my doctor. Let’s just get him on the phone and see what he has to say.”

4. Report your symptoms. It’s easier to treat infections if they are caught early. So tell your nurse promptly if the dressing around a wound or the entrance site of a catheter loosens, gets wet or is causing pain. If you develop a rash, a fever, new swelling or a different kind of pain, you may be getting an infection. Say, “My whole leg is red. I’ve never seen that before. It worries me. How can we make sure it’s not something that needs to be treated right now?”

5. Bring a “quarterback.” Being hospitalized is stressful and exhausting. It’s just too hard to advocate for yourself. Having a trusted support person there, what Michelson calls a “health care quarterback,” can be a safeguard. This is especially true if you are elderly, extremely ill, or on medications that compromise your mental acuity. Introduce your helper to the charge nurse, and provide his or her cell phone number as well as any forms — HIPAA release, power of attorney — that formally grant your quarterback rights with regard to your care.

6. Get thorough discharge instructions. Nearly one-fifth of Medicare patients discharged from a hospital — about 2.6 million seniors a year — will develop an acute medical problem within the first 30 days that will necessitate another hospitalization. In “The Patient’s Playbook,” Michelson reveals his list of “The Ten Things You Need to Ask Before You Leave the Hospital.” Getting clear answer to questions such as: “What should I expect during my recovery? What activities should I avoid? How do I properly care for wounds? What’s my medication schedule?” will help you to heal properly — while protecting you from complications that might necessitate another hospital stay.

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