What is patient safety? How to improve hospital safety

Patient safety refers to the way in which hospitals and healthcare facilities protect you from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a priority for all hospitals, which is why when you meet people that are afraid of going to a hospital, well, let’s just say it’s not entirely an irrational fear. You have a 1 in 25 chance of leaving the hospital with a new infection. Up to 440,000 people die every year from preventable errors in hospitals – 1,000 of which will die today. Sometimes staying in a hospital is like seeking refuge under a tree during a thunderstorm, but patients and providers can work together to improve the safety of a given healthcare setting as well as reduce the likelihood of errors.

How to prepare for your hospital stay or that of a family member


·         Bring all medicines you currently take for your healthcare team to review, including over-the-counter, dietary supplements, and herbal remedies.

·         Ensure that your care team knows if you’re allergic to any medication.

·         Bring a friend or relative along with you to be your advocate – ask questions, provide information, intervene if there are problems, etc.

·         Keep track of the look and taste of the medicines they give you at the hospital. If the nurse brings you anything different, ask the reason for the change.

·         Learn both the clinical and common name for the conditions that your medicines treat.

·         Though side effects are to be expected, tell a nurse or doctor about any unexpected reaction to a medication.

·         Ensure that your care team checks your hospital wristband before administering medication.

·         Update a copy of your medication list and give it to a friend or relative.

·         The names of some medications are homophones; they sound or are spelled similarly but their meaning – or in this case the effect –is different. Keep a printed, legible list of your medications including generic and brand names.


·         Ask the healthcare team about every aspect of your child’s care.

·         Make sure you and your child comply with all safety signs and messages.

·         As a parent, you are sort of an unofficial member of the healthcare team; you can voice your concern and offer your input without getting in the way of the professionals.

During surgery:

·         Ask that sleep medicines be given to your child at the hospital so the care team can observe how the child reacts to them.

·         Bond with the care team by learning about their qualifications and asking them about their experience.

·         Ask the surgeon to “sign the site” of the part of the body to be operated on while you are with your child.

·         Request to remain with your child until he or she falls asleep.

Other relatives

·         Explain that you are there to help your relative and are part of the care team.

·         Attend rounds, shift changes and any major conferences with the care team – unless you are not invited, in which case you can ask the times at which these events may occur. Communication is key to coordination.

·         Take notes.

·         Ask to stay overnight when your relative is recovering from surgery.

·         Have a fresh family member stay with the patient while you rest – and let the care team know who that person is.

·         If available, visit the hospital library to get accurate, reliable information on your relative’s condition.


·         Falls in hospitals are a problem for patients of all ages, but especially for the elderly.

·         Use a call button if you need to get out of bed to go to the restroom.

·         Wear non-slip socks or well-fitting footwear.

·         Lower bed height and side rails.

·         Talk to your care team if a medication makes you feel unsteady, dizzy, sleepy, light-headed, sluggish or confused. They may prescribe you a different medication.


What to do if you spot an error in the hospital

An example of a medical error is an air or gas bubble in the blood that can result in a stroke or death. This error can happen during surgery so it is not likely that you’ll notice, but you may see other errors during your stay. Here’s what to do, regardless of whether they affect you directly, a member of your family, or another patient:

·         Let someone know immediately, preferably a member of your healthcare team, such as your bedside nurse.

·         If no member of your care team is around, the report it to any hospital employee – they are all there to ensure your and all other patients’ safety. Do not wait.

·         Discuss the problem respectfully but assertively.

·         Make sure that you expect to receive feedback and to see something done about the error.

·         Contact hospital’s customer service, patient advocacy or patient and family relations department if theirs is no resolution during your stay.

·         If available, use the hospital’s suggestion box or hotline to report the error.

Discussing safety and errors with your doctor


·         Think about questions and write them down prior to a visit.

·         Ask follow up questions if you do not understand what is being said to you.

·         Take notes and keep track of what’s going during your stay, such as care team members washing their hands – or failure to do so.


·         Ask what happened.

·         Probe deeper and deeper until you fully understand what went wrong and why.

·         Ask what the hospital is doing to prevent a similar error in the future.

·         If possible, ask to participate in the investigation and collaborate on a solution.

·         Accept an apology if you’re given an honest one.


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