My advice is don't get sick...
Last updated 12/13/2007 at Noon
But if you do, be sure you have an advocate
A message from the editor.
For the last several years I have been on what I refer to as my “national tour” of hospitals. I can assure you that not only have I repeatedly visited many hospitals throughout San Diego County, but some in other states as well.
It is important to note that many of my experiences took place at noteworthy and well-respected medical facilities. It is also important to note that all but one of my experiences was due to various family members being hospitalized, just in case you might think I am medically hanging by a thread.
It is not my intention to gripe about the healthcare system (because goodness knows what we would do without the talented men and women who are committed to caring for others) but rather to point out that hospitals are just another business that is susceptible to the same downfalls that exist in other industries – staffing shortages, communication breakdowns and product problems.
The problem is that when these things occur in a hospital, it could negatively impact your health versus, say, doing business with a carpet installer.
Rule #1: Appoint a healthcare advocate for yourself.
After having some unsettling experiences on my “tour,” I have seen firsthand why each and every one of us needs to have a healthcare advocate.
Whether you want it to be your spouse, one of your (adult) children, a brother or sister or a very good friend, choose someone that you would trust with your life and ask them to function in that capacity for you. Do it now.
Rule #2: Do the appropriate paperwork.
Designate your advocate by completing an Advance Directive for Healthcare and Durable Power of Attorney that makes it all legal and proper.
Rule #3: Never assume that everything will go according to plan because you are “in the hospital.”
It is important that your advocate know your medical history, is not afraid to routinely ask questions, will double check that correct medications are being administered (on time) and is willing to interact with your physician and nurses, if needed.
It thoroughly amazes me how many people will not question a doctor or nurse. Do they have any idea how busy these people’s caseloads are at times?
They are only human. Mistakes happen. Oversights happen. If done in a polite way, they appreciate someone double-checking on things that are vital to their patient.
Rule #4: Be sure all your important data – like chronic conditions, former illnesses, surgeries, drug allergies and sensitivities – is noted in your file.
Keep asking nurses and doctors to double check your file when you are asked questions about things you believe have already been noted. This just ensures that they are indeed referring to it.
When you are ill, it is difficult to remember everything at all times of the day or night. That is what the file is for.
I have found it amazing how little a patient’s file is referred to at some facilities. If you have an (ongoing) condition that is not seen frequently (like some of the more unusual autoimmune diseases), ask how often the healthcare professionals working on your case have dealt with patients who have had the disease to see what level of knowledge exists.
It can be detrimental to your health if a treatment is used on you (for the sickness that landed you in the hospital) that may be known to worsen your particular (chronic) disease. Usually there are options so the best choice possible can be made for you as an individual.
Rule #5: If you are taking any regular medications (prior to your admission to a hospital), be sure you or your advocate reminds doctors and nurses of it. Be sure it is noted in your file.
This is important for two reasons: 1) to be sure your regular medication is continued while in the hospital and 2) to be sure you aren’t given a new medication that will interact with your existing ones.
Drug interactions can cause serious side effects or worse. Again, I have found that it is not unusual for this to be overlooked in the rush.
Rule #6: Be aware that hospitals have patient advocates.
Chances are you and your advocate will never need to do this, but if you feel you are having a serious problem with the care you are receiving while in the hospital, ask the hospital to direct you to their patient advocate.
This individual can act as a liaison to improve difficulties that may be occurring. Advocates have been known to resolve things efficiently and quickly.
Rule #7: Appreciate the fine nurses and doctors who help you get well.
These individuals carry a heavy load and deal with an enormous number of people who aren’t always in the best of moods. Take a moment (and the energy) to say “thank you” and tell them specifically how they have helped you.
Comment on the small things that made a positive difference for you as well as the big things. It is always refreshing to the human spirit to be appreciated.
Rule #8: Stay healthy. Then, you won’t need to refer to this set of rules.