It’s not unusual to occasionally hear people refer to the good old days when doctors made house calls, or they might wax nostalgic about TV’s Marcus Welby, M.D., whose main character came across as the perfect embodiment of medicine.
There’s no denying that the 1960s and ‘70s were simpler times in many ways, but for health care in particular, they weren’t necessarily better. Medicine has come a very long way over the past 40 years, and we’re all beneficiaries of numerous medical discoveries and innovations that have not only improved our health and well being, but just as importantly, have made us safer and more informed health care consumers. Marcus Welby notwithstanding, doctors and the hospitals that they work in are not perfect. So adieu to Dr. Welby, but spare us from “House” (unless we need his expertise).
Patient safety was not a major topic in health care during the last century, but today it is a top priority for all health care providers, government agencies and payers. The complexity of technology and care have caused many entities to invest many millions of dollars in new technology, such as Electronic Medical Records (EMR), Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE), simulation training, remote ICU monitoring and other innovations to make hospitals as safe as possible for patients.
Even before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2001 that more than 770,000 people were injured or died each year in hospitals from Adverse Drug Events (ADEs), Banner Health was at the forefront of proving the benefits of an electronic ADE alert system. In 1998, a team of faculty from Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center conducted and published the results of the first-ever study to prospectively evaluate a computer support system with real-time intervention for reducing injury from a broad range of ADEs.
In those “early days” of the electronic record, phone calls and faxes to and from the laboratory, pharmacy and physician served as a way to catch issues before they occurred. Today, every Banner hospital in Arizona is equipped with an EMR that includes electronic alerts to help prevent ADEs from happening. Patients should feel assured that if they receive care in one Banner hospital and then go to another, their medical history with tests, as well as medications, will be easily accessible at every location. This is important, because the general public may not be aware of the number of drugs that have similar sounding names, such as Clonidine for high blood pressure or Klonopin for seizures; Celebrex for arthritis pain or Celexa for depression. If you’re at a Banner Hospital and a drug is ordered for you, an ALERT will pop up right at the nursing station and require immediate attention if it doesn’t match your medical condition or if it might cause a reaction with your other medications. At a point in the not too distant future, if it hasn’t already occurred, your physician’s office will be tied into a system that provides your medical record and safety features at all sites of care.
But, even with all of these innovations, patients should know that they have an important role and responsibility for ensuring their own safe care during a hospitalization. First and foremost, if at any time something doesn’t feel right, or if you’re unsure about something, SPEAK UP! You have the right to question anything. Also, proper hand hygiene is critical. Make sure that all caregivers and visitors, including your own family and friends, who come into your room wash their hands with soap and water or use antibacterial gel. Here are some other tips for ensuring your safe care:
- Provide your complete and accurate health history information at the time of admission, including all allergies you might have
- Know your medications and tell your care providers what you’re taking, including herbal and over-the-counter supplements, and how the drugs affect you.
- Always confirm your identity — all hospital staff should check your wristband and ask your name before they draw blood, administer tests, give medicine or provide any treatments
- Follow your health care instructions — never tamper with your IV pump, monitors or other devices. When you are ready to go home, get your health care instructions in writing and make sure you understand how to follow them. Again, ask questions.
The safest medical care occurs when everyone is working together as a team, including the patient, and utilizing all of the tools available to ensure the most successful outcome.