Repetition Reduces Risk – Health Care Safety Tips You Need to Know!

Some of the most valuable patient safety lessons learned don’t come from medical textbooks, but rather from the experience of being the patient. Patients often find themselves in situations where they could suffer from medical errors, if they don’t pay close attention. Medical errors are all too common and can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It is probably not hard to think of someone you know who has suffered from a medical error.Many medical errors are preventable if critical information is just repeated and verified. This article will give you some examples of common medical situations that should never happen and tips for preventing them.Repeat Allergy and Medication Information:It sounds simple enough . . . you tell your medical providers what allergies you have, they record it in their records and you are all set, right? Wrong! You should be repeating what allergies you have to every health care provider you come in contact with. Why, do you need to do this? Because sadly, health care providers often do not take the time to read your chart before they see you or you may see multiple providers during one appointment.I have personally had health care providers try to prescribe an antibiotic for me that I am allergic to because they didn’t look at my chart. As a patient in the hospital, I have also had multiple staff approach me with latex gloves on even though there was a large sign above my bed reading LATEX ALLERGY.Sometimes, in paperless offices, health care providers do not even have a chart to read. They have a single sheet of computer generated paper or a lap top computer to use. In these cases, they are relying on patient information previously entered into a computer.At one of my most recent doctor appointments, I was shocked to learn the nurse had no idea that I was allergic to latex and had multiple other drug allergies. It seems they had recently gone paperless and the person entering the data had simply forgotten to enter the alerts. The nurse had no idea how many other patient records were incomplete — how frightening is that?The same scenario is true for medications. You should repeat what prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you are taking to your health care providers at each appointment, whether they ask you or not. This is especially true if they are going to be prescribing a new medication for you.Tip: Repeat your allergy and current medication information to each health care provider you come in contact with. Repetition here can help prevent dangerous allergic and/or drug reactions.Repeat Procedural Information:Repetition is equally important during procedures. Besides letting your health care providers know about your allergies and medications, you need to speak up if you think something is wrong. Trust your instincts, they are usually correct. Here are two real life examples of patients who prevented problems by speaking up and repeating what was supposed to happen:The first patient was having routine x-rays taken of her shoulder. She knew why she was there and was getting lined up for the x-rays, when she began to feel uneasy. She didn’t understand why they where concentrating on her right shoulder when she was there to have her left shoulder x-rayed. Fortunately, she questioned the technician before the x-rays were taken and said, “You are taking pictures of my left shoulder aren’t you?” Sure enough, the technician was lining up the wrong shoulder! A very embarrassed and apologetic technician then x-rayed the correct shoulder.A second patient was going through chemotherapy as her cancer treatment. Her husband had been attending all her sessions with her. Today though, he began to feel uneasy. Things were not going as they usually did. When he questioned the nurse about the specifics of the drugs doses and rates of delivery, he learned the nurse was giving the drugs too quickly! He knew at what rate the drugs should be administered because he had written down specific information on previous visits. His attention to detail and repetitive nature had prevented her from getting the medication too quickly which could have caused severe complications!Tip: Repeat and verify information during your medical procedures. Repetition here can help prevent many medical errors.Repeat Your Decisions:As patients, we all have medical choices/decisions to make and you should make a point to repeat your choices to your health care providers. This seems like such an easy thing to do, but when a patient is dealing with a number of different health care providers, your choices are not always passed along correctly. In addition, if your choices differ from what “is usually done” you are more likely to encounter a problem.Before in-patient surgery, I had several opportunities to let my health care providers know what I wanted for pain medication. I told my surgeon, I wanted prescription ibuprofen, not Tylenol #3 with codeine. I told him very clearly I didn’t tolerate codeine well and I wanted to avoid feeling nauseous. During my pre-op appointment with anesthesiology, I let them know my pain medication wishes as well. The morning of my surgery, I again told my health care providers of my desire to avoid any pain medications with codeine.Having expressed my pain medication choice to the hospital staff on three different occasions, I went to surgery confident I would be given the right pain medication after surgery. While still groggy after surgery, I asked the nurse what the pain medication pills where she was giving me and to my horror she said, “Tylenol #3, that’s what we always give.” Fortunately, I was coherent enough to refuse the medication and have her contact my doctor for prescription strength ibuprofen. This just goes to show you, sometimes you have to repeat and repeat and repeat.A much more serious problem occurs with end of life issues. People feel very strongly about what measures they do or do not want done to them if they become incapacitated. How many times have you heard about battles over life-support decisions? Too often life-support choices/decisions are not respected because they are not known to family members and/or the proper hospital paperwork is not in place ahead of time.Tip: Repeat your medical decisions and choices as many times as possible. When necessary, verify with your doctor, your attorney and other medical personnel that the appropriate paperwork is in place to make your wishes known to all your medical providers.The examples described in this article actually happened to real patients. They are just a few of the unlimited situations where patients can use repetition to help improve their health care and avoid the risk of suffering from medical errors.Tip: Listen to your instincts, write things down, repeat information and instructions and when in doubt — ask questions. If you’re the patient and you are unable to do these things, then have your patient advocate help you. In the end, it’s your health you’re protecting!

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