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Patient Advocacy: How to Protect Your Loved One in a Hospital Setting

Approximately 95,000 people per year die as a result of medical errors, infections, and other problems that occur in the hospital. Many of these people are the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable and who do not recover as quickly from medical setbacks. If your elderly loved one is going into a hospital, here are a few ways you can protect him or her—and make sure your loved one gets the best care possible.

Designate one family member as the point person

It can be confusing for health care personnel to hear three different versions of your family member’s important information from different people. Going in, choose one person to be the focal point of communication for your loved one’s care. Be sure that person knows everything relevant about the patient’s medications, dosage, and treatment history that a doctor will want to know, and has power of attorney in case an important medical decision needs to be made.

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Hospital care isn’t perfect, and every year, thousands of patients don’t come home from hospital visits due to entirely-preventable and tragic errors.

Be informed

The person who is acting as the point of contact should be equipped with everything needed to inform doctors of care—lists of medications and dosages, a complete medical history, any allergies, and anything else relevant. Be sure these items are listed prominently on the medical chart. Medical errors are a real danger in hospitals, so be sure nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff know the relevant facts about your loved one.

Check dosages

It’s important to double-check the dosages of any drugs administered. If a nurse or another medical professional you don’t recognize visits your loved one to deliver a drug or treatment, be sure they check your loved one’s medical ID bracelet—and they’re not mistaking him or her for someone else. In a busy hospital setting, this is entirely possible. Medication errors are one of the most common hospital errors.

Keep an eye on hygiene

All health care professionals should wash their hands—but more let this essential element of hygiene slip than you would think. It can be helpful to put a polite sign up on the door to your loved one’s room asking everyone who enters to wash their hands and wear gloves.

Be aware of who is giving the treatment

Residents frequently perform treatments and procedures—even surgeries—on a patient in place of a doctor. While it’s important for residents to learn, you don’t necessarily want someone to be practicing on your loved one in cases when the person’s life is at stake. Take a look at the consent form you sign when you enter the hospital. Where it states that you give permission for doctors and the people they assign (i.e. medical students) to provide care, alter the form to say that you give permission for treatment by interns and residents on an informed consent basis, and that you expect the attending physician to supervise.

Be aware of catheters

Medical professionals often see catheterization as a routine procedure. However, the catheter is one of the more common sources of infection in hospitals, and it’s important not to keep it in beyond when it’s needed. If your loved one can make it to the bathroom on his or her own, be sure to tell the hospital staff that the catheter can be removed.

Be aware of bedsores

Bedsores occur when a person has been lying in the same position for a long time. When a healthy person sleeps, he moves unconsciously in bed; but with some illnesses and injuries, the person cannot move on his own—even while sleeping. This means that your loved one will need to be turned periodically to keep bed sores from developing. In a busy hospital setting, this may not happen as often as it should. Keep an eye on your loved one to make sure he or she is being turned as often as necessary—and be alert to any sign of redness in areas such as the heels, buttocks, or the lower back.

Hospital care isn’t perfect, and every year, thousands of patients don’t come home from hospital visits due to entirely-preventable and tragic errors. The elderly are particularly vulnerable, and it’s important for your loved one to have an advocate going into a hospital stay. Be informed and stay by your loved one’s bedside, and you lessen the chances that a medical error will occur.