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A Prescription for Staying Safe in MA Hospitals

March 3, 2008

Boston, MA - It's "Patient Safety Week," and health advocates say there's a lot that patients can do to stay safe in hospitals. Medical errors injure about a million Americans every year, according to the Institute of Medicine, and the C.D.C. says well over a million infections are contracted in medical facilities. Patient advocates say the best way to avoid falling victim to medical errors is to ask questions.

Jen Tosca's son was blind in one eye and she was told that if he didn't have surgery, the eye would need to be removed. They went ahead with the surgery, but the eye had to be removed anyway. The area around his eye has been swollen since 2005. Tosca says if she could do it again, she would have done more research.

"If I had a better understanding of the health care system, in how things fell together, and had been better equipped with knowledge to make better decisions, it definitely would've protected us."

Tosca says she wishes she had contacted the hospital's patient advocate, but at the time didn't know they had one. Her advice is to seek out and utilize all available patient resources inside and outside the hospital.

Nicola Truppin with the Consumer Health Quality Council says the idea is not to scare people from going into hospitals, but rather to remind them that the people working in the medical system are human and can make mistakes.

"That isn't to say that this is a bad physician or a bad nurse, but that there are so many things going on in a hospital these days that the patient has a right to know."

Marilyn Kramer with the Partnership for Health Care Excellence says protecting yourself can be as easy as asking doctors if they washed their hands, and making sure you're being given the correct pills.

"If you're in the hospital, and a nurse comes to give you medication, ask what is it and why you're taking it. Double-check with the providers."

She says another valuable tool is to get information on doctors' histories and hospitals, which can both easily be found online.

Kevin Clay/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MA