Even with incredible medical advances over the past decades, patients still face very real threats from hospitalization. Knowing the common hospital risks and the appropriate questions to ask about your care just might save your life.
"Infections contracted during hospital stays are the fourth largest killer in America," explains Bruce Smeaton, a spokesman for the global infection control company Medizone International (medizoneint.com). "They add an estimated $33 billion to hospital and health care costs each year."
Other experts — like the chief patient safety officer of the Joint Commission in Illinois, Dr. Peter Angood — say patients are simply too passive and don't ask the right questions.
Familiarizing yourself with these three hospital risks may help you during your next hospital stay:
Medication errors. The Institute of Medicine estimates that patients endure 450,000 injuries resulting from medication errors each year. To reduce this risk, make sure each surgeon, doctor and nurse knows of every medicine you're taking. Ask what medicines are being prescribed and why, and what side effects to expect. If you're nervous, speak up.
Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). Superbugs like MRSA — which is resistant to most antibiotics and only growing stronger — VRE and E. coli cause 1.7 million infections in hospitals every year. Since this is a widespread issue, don't shy away from the tough questions: What methods or technologies are being used to prevent HAIs?
Experts also advise patients undergoing surgery to ask everyone to wash their hands before touching them, hospital staff included.
Pneumonia. After wounds and urinary tract infections, pneumonia is the most common HAI, especially for patients recovering from surgery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a 33 percent mortality rate for hospital pneumonia. The easiest way to avoid this risk is to focus on deep breathing.
Doctors recommend 10 to 15 deep breaths hourly. And smokers must stop smoking for a week or two before surgery if they can't quit altogether.