When Things Go Wrong In Healthcare

There is just no great way to say it. Healthcare in the US is not as safe as most of us think it is. Medical errors unfortunately do happen in healthcare. There is plenty of blame to go around – but with incredibly very rare exception – bad healthcare providers intentionally hurting (or worse) patients is not one of them.

Healthcare is complex – and the system in which it operates in the US is equally complex. To make things worse, all of it is changing – constantly. So what do you do if you are injured or harmed while being cared for in a hospital?

  1. Speak with the Doctor, Nurse Manager or Risk Manager, and perhaps the Ethics Committee if appropriate. You should also have access to religious support if you wish. State your concern. You should receive help and a sincere apology. Hopefully, this will resolve your concern.
  2. Regardless, insist on disclosure – being told the truth of what happened. UnderstandOops_Stop_Sign_icon.svg that healthcare providers are human. Even the very best,  most experienced and compassionate ones make mistakes; they forget, they get tired, or distracted. They are usually devastated when an error occurs.  Keep calm and seek the whole story.
  3. Most medical error involves poor process or systems in which people work. The best way to prevent mistakes in any industry is to standardize processes and integrate human factors to make doing the right things easier and doing the wrong things impossible (or nearly so). Ask what is being changed to prevent this mistake from happening again.
  4. If you don’t feel a sense of resolution, you have the right to contact and report your concerns to The Joint Commission, CMS, the Board of Medicine, etc. and seek legal counsel.

When it comes to medical error, it is also important to understand the difference between patient satisfaction and evidenced based quality care. Both are important but it is possible to be very satisfied, while receiving care of lesser quality, and conversely to receive the best, most current evidence based best practice, and be dissatisfied with the food, bedside manner of staff, uncomfortable bed, response times, etc. At times, being unhappy about one aspect of care can influence the perception of the entire episode. In reality, one grumpy nurse, does not make the entire hospital bad.

Most importantly of all – be involved in your healthcare! Ask questions! Understand what treatment is proposed, why, and what are the risks, benefits, and alternatives! Know your medications and why you are taking them. Understand that YOU are the ultimate boss of your body and any medical interventions performed on it.

Here are just a very few examples of opportunity for error in healthcare.

Look alike

Also see:  Speak up to Protect a Hospitalized Loved One – Part 1 of 2

and  Speaking up to Protect a Hospitalized Loved One – Part 2 of 2

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3 comments

  1. I agree that the system is stacked against the patient, and medical errors is a crisis. However, saying that none of this matters isn’t exactly true. In any arena including healthcare, change occurs from the bottom up. And each individual patient – and loved ones who care about them – is the focus of this article. Too often those relatives and friends who are involved with the patient in getting them proper treatment and care can ask the right questions and take the right actions at the right time to create a more positive outcome for that individual, which is what we want to have happen – for that individual. Changing the system is a very complex, very difficult, seemingly impossible task, but if one person can change a medical outcome for one person, then there is success.

    The message here is to ask questions, knowing that there are serious flaws in process that can lead to problems for patients. In the movie, “Hot Shots,” (Comedic parody of ‘Top Gun’) a pilot is being taken into the ED for treatment, and says, “I’m in a hospital! What can go wrong?” The next scene is the cemetery. What can go wrong? Lots, and the cure starts with us.

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  2. I encourage my patients to speak up. if something doesn’t feel right, tell the nurse, tell the doc, if nothing changes and you still feel you are not getting the care you need, call the hospital or snf liasion tell them about your concern.
    If that doesn’t help “at all”, ask to speak to the House Manager, go to the top if you have to………in your hospital gown, someone will want to help you (esp if the back is open)
    tjordan, arnp

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