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Hospitals: How To Avoid Infection & Medical Error


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The following information can be startling and concerning. It should not be used as a reason not to enter a hospital when needed. Instead, it should be used to help encourage you to take the steps you can take to minimize error and infection.

  • According to a Harvard Medical Practice Study, medical errors are responsible for injury to as many as 1 of every 25 hospital patients. A report by the Institute of Medicine estimates that 44,000 to 98,000 patients die in the hospital each year due to medical error.  
  • According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the single most effective method of preventing medical error is to be an active member of your healthcare team.  This includes understanding your diagnosis and playing an active role in the planning and administration of your treatment.  The assistance of your health advocate will be invaluable during this time.

To minimize some of the most common medical errors which occur in a hospital and to avoid picking up unnecessary infections, consider the following advice. More information about each point  is contained in the other sections of this article.

Basically, it helps to understand that your job is to be vigilant and assertive.

  • One of the easiest ways to do this is to have a friend or family member serve as a patient advocate, particularly for those times when you are not feeling well. 
    • To learn about being vigilant and assertive, click here.  
    • To learn about the role of a patient advocate, click here
    • To learn how to choose a patient advocate, click here.
  • Make sure every health care provider washes his or her hands, or wears gloves, before providing you with any medical procedure or care. (Alcohol based cleansers are not enough, by themselves, to kill today's potentially deadly germs). If it helps you to assert yourself, consider saying something like the following: "You really seem to be working hard today and are under a lot of pressure. I hope you don't mind me reminding you to please wash your hands." (To learn more about hand washing, click here.)
  • To learn how to help keep the room as germ free as possible, click here.
  • Keep germs away from your lips, nose and eyes..For example, keep your hands away from your face as much as possible. For additional tips, click here.
  • Watch for medication errors. 
    • To learn how in general, click here.
    • To learn about keeping instruments germ free, click here.

Before you make any major decisions, consider getting a second opinion -- just as you would outside the hospital. To learn how, click here.

Written with:
Skip Moskey, Limerick, ME
Herbert Spiers, Ph.D., New York, NY

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