We all know that we have to be very active and diligent when it comes to our overall health. But when we step into a hospital, we cannot simply lie back, relax and let the experts do their jobs. Errors that occur in the hospital are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind cancer and heart disease. These preventable mistakes cause over 400,000 deaths each year, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Patient Safety (November, 2013). This study also estimated that millions of people are injured each year as a result of these errors. Recent studies have found that when errors are made by physicians, other physicians seldom report these mistakes. In fact, a 2010 Medicare study found that 86% of medical errors go unreported. When hospitals do identify preventable errors that are made at their institutions, new policies to prevent the errors from recurring are hardly ever implemented. Furthermore, when physician mistakes actually are reported (the physician was disciplined by her hospital and/or had clinical privileges revoked), most state disciplinary boards take absolutely no action against the offending physician. This means that the offending physician’s medical license is not affected by her errors and the physician is free to practice.
Many Hospitals Withhold Public Disclosure of Medical Errors
Indeed, these recent studies are shocking. Even more appalling is the fact that hospitals and the government are now withholding data on much of these potentially deadly – and preventable – hospital errors. USA Today recently reported that this month, the federal government stopped publicly reporting life-threatening mistakes made by physicians and the medical team, such as leaving a sponge inside a patient’s body after surgery. Withholding this data means that people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals have high rates of errors – errors that include leaving a foreign body in a patient and giving the patient the wrong blood type.
Acquiring Infections During Hospital Stays: A Trend on the Rise
Medical institutions are known for spreading deadly infections. In the U.S., two million patients are affected by hospital acquired infections every year, and approximately 75,000 – 100,000 patients die annually as a result of these preventable infections. The most common hospital acquired infections are:
- Infections associated with central lines in a patient, such as a catheters placed in blood vessels
- Urinary tract infections associated with catheters
- Surgical site infections post-surgery
- Clostridium difficileinfections
These hospital infections can typically be prevented by better infection control in hospitals. Simple actions, such as hand washing, cleaning equipment such as stethoscopes between patients, and making sure gloves don’t touch anything else prior to working with a central line or catheter can help prevent these infections.
Low-Income Patients Particularly Susceptible to Medical Malpractice
Patients have about a 54% lower risk of dying in a hospital rated as having 5 stars compared to lower rated hospitals. Hospitals that primarily serve Medicare patients tend to have the highest risk of patient death. In fact, in-hospital acquired infections affect 1 in 25 patients in the U.S., but 1 in 9 Medicare patients are impacted by hospital-acquired infections. In 2011, a study found that almost 165,000 hospital complications could have been prevented had Medicare patients gone to top rated hospitals.
Diabetic patients living in low income areas are 10 times more likely to have their legs or feet amputated compared to diabetic patients living in more affluent areas.
Hospital Quality Gaps Affect Pregnant Women
Pregnant women are also impacted by performance gaps in hospitals. In a study published this summer in Health Affairs, hospitals classified by researchers as being “low-performing” had a 23% obstetrical complication rate for mothers who delivered vaginally, and hospitals classified as being “high-performing” had an obstetrical complication rate for vaginal delivery of 10%. The gap in complication rates was even greater among mothers who delivered by C-section: low-performing hospitals had a complication rate of 21% and high-performing hospitals had a 4% rate of complication. Hospitals were classified as being high, average or low performing based on the relative risk a patient would suffer a complication at that particular hospital.
How to Play an Active Role in Your Care & Stay Safe at the Hospital
The consensus among leading patient safety and consumer advocates is that one of the most important steps you can take to help ensure a safe stay in the hospital is to have a patient sitter with you at all times. This can be a friend or a family member – anyone of your choosing. When choosing a hospital for a surgical procedure, you should call in advance and make sure that a sitter can be by your side at all times. Of course, many other factors should be investigated prior to choosing your hospital and physician, and in emergent situations, you may not be able to choose your hospital. However, it is a good practice to investigate hospitals in your area that have a good reputation when it comes to handling emergencies, surgeries and traumas.
When a surgery or procedure is scheduled in advance, it is prudent to ask a potential physician how often she has performed the particular procedure or surgery, and if the specific physician will be handling the surgery herself or if she will simply be supervising a resident or fellow.
Listed below are other tips for staying safe in the hospital.
- Read the Patient’s Bill of Rights
- Ensure you are given the correct medication
- Employ the use of a “patient sitter” or “nanny cam”
- Bring a voice recorder, phone or camera
- Ask questions and demand answers
- Write down the name of caregivers
- Review medical records for mistakes
These steps can be taken by the sitter since many patients are given medications that affect their alertness.
Pregnant women have 2 people to worry about. Unlike most surgeries, however, if a mother needs a C-section, most hospitals allow the father to be present during the procedure. Parents can check on this prior to choosing a hospital for labor and delivery.
Other questions expecting mothers should ask when deciding on a hospital and physician for labor and delivery include the following:
- Will my baby have continuous electronic fetal heart rate monitoring?
- Are you skilled in fetal heart rate tracing interpretation, and how many years of experience do you have?
- Is there at least one other person involved in my labor and delivery that is skilled at fetal heart rate interpretation?
- If my baby gets in trouble, do you have the ability to deliver my baby very quickly by emergency C-section?
- How many years of experience do you have in performing emergency C-sections?
- Is there an additional physician immediately available in the event that multiple dangerous conditions occur simultaneously, such as my baby and I having difficulty at the same time?
- Is there proper resuscitation equipment immediately available in case my baby needs to be resuscitated at birth?
In addition to proper fetal monitoring, the mother must also be properly monitored. A mother’s blood pressure, heart rate, and physical signs (such as abdominal and back pain and lack of fetal movement) can give important information regarding impending or current fetal distress. Informed consent must be given about all procedures, including risks benefits and alternatives. This means that the use of risky delivery instruments, such as forceps and vacuum extractors, as well as the potentially dangerous labor drugs Pitocin and Cytotec, must be fully explained to the mother. The option of a C-section must also be thoroughly explained.
Reiter & Walsh: Advocates for Mothers and Babies with Decades of Experience
Hospital errors can affect anyone, with low income patients being at the highest risk of experiencing preventable errors. Pregnant women and their babies can be affected by any of the errors discusses above, and research shows that labor and delivery complications occur more frequently in low income patient populations.
If your baby suffered a birth injury and has a condition such as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder or periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), contact the award winning cerebral palsy lawyers at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers. ABC Law Centers is a birth injury law firm that has been helping children throughout the nation for almost 3 decades.
Grand Rapids cerebral palsy lawyer Jesse Reiter, president of the Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers, has been focusing solely on birth injury cases for over 28 years, and most of his cases involve hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy. Jesse is currently recognized as one of the best medical malpractice lawyers in America by U.S. News and World Report 2014, which also recognized ABC Law Centers as one of the best medical malpractice law firms in the nation. The lawyers at ABC Law Centers have won numerous awards for their advocacy of children and are members of the Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ).
If your child was diagnosed with a birth injury, the award winning cerebral palsy lawyers at ABC Law Centers can help. We have helped children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy and a secure future, and we give personal attention to each child and family we represent. Our nationally recognized birth injury firm has numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. Email or call Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers at 888-419-2229 for a free case evaluation. Our firm’s award winning lawyers are available 24 / 7 to speak with you.
Video: Grand Rapids Cerebral Palsy Lawyer Discusses the Cause of Birth Injuries
In this video, Jesse Reiter talks about the many complications that can occur near the time of delivery that can cause birth injuries, such as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy, seizure disorders and periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).