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Stay Safe When You’re In the Hospital

Every year hundreds of thousands of medical errors occur, and as many as 98,000 Americans admitted to hospitals die because of treatment mistakes, according to an Institute of Medicine report.

Being actively involved in care decisions and taking extra precautions to avoid infection when in a hospital can help keep you and your family safe, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality says.

Avoid infection

Hospital-associated MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, is common in patients who have had major surgery, are on kidney dialysis, or have immune systems weakened by illness or medication. It can cause a bloodstream infection, high fever, and pneumonia.

Here's how to protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands frequently if you’re a patient or are visiting someone in the hospital. Use warm water and soap to wash, and keep washing for about 20 seconds. You also can use antimicrobial lotions or gels.

  • Insist that health care workers wash their hands in front of you.

  • Before you check in to a hospital for a procedure, discuss with your surgeon the steps that will be taken to protect you from MRSA.

Prevent errors

Accidental deaths occur when people are given the wrong drugs or the right drugs in the wrong doses. The following strategies can help you prevent medical errors and stay safe:

  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns.

  • Make sure you’re getting the right treatments and medication. If you’re having surgery, for example, ask the doctor to mark the area that’s to be operated on so there’s no confusion.

  • Make sure every nurse and doctor confirms your identity by checking your wrist band before he or she gives you any medications.

  • Ask a family member or friend to be your advocate and help you monitor your care, especially if you’re heavily medicated or sedated.

  • Participate in and be informed about all decisions regarding your treatment. You and your doctor should agree on exactly what will be done during each step of your care.