How Safe is Your Hospital?

Preparing for Your Hospital Stay

You can reduce the chance for safety errors while you’re in the hospital. Below, we’ll show you how to be informed, alert, organized and aware.

Medication safety

Medication safety improvement is a top priority for hospitals. You and your family can play a role in helping hospitals improve on medication safety. To prepare for your hospital stay, be sure to:

  • Bring all the medicines you are currently taking so that your health care team can review them. Don’t forget over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies.
  • Make sure your care team knows about any allergies to medications.
  • Bring a family member or friend to the hospital with you. This way, even when you are not feeling well, this person can be alert, ask questions, provide important information, and step in if there are any problems.
  • Know what the medicines given to you in the hospital look and taste like. If anything is different when your nurse brings them to you, ask why.
  • Know what conditions your medicines treat. It is helpful to know both the clinical and common name for your condition(s).
  • Some discomfort can be expected, but it is important to let someone know about an unexpected response to medication, which could help flag a potential problem or error in your care.
  • Make sure your care team checks your hospital wristband before giving you medication.
  • Share your medication list with a friend or family member every time it changes. Make sure the list is dated, as your list of medications may change often.
  • Remember that some of the same drugs have different names, while some drugs have similar names but are different. Having a printed, legible list of your medications that includes generic and brand names is helpful in sorting this out.
Doctor with child patient

What parents can do to help keep children safe in a hospital

Children, just like adults, are vulnerable when they are in the hospital. Protecting them from harm is an important role for a parent. Here are some ways you can protect your child:

  • Ask the health care team about each aspect of your child’s care. Knowing what is expected can help you provide an extra pair of eyes and ears.
  • Respect all safety signs and messages. Behaviors such as washing your hands, making sure a security door is shut, or not allowing children to run down the halls, can help protect patients from harm.
  • Share concerns and remain an active participant in the health care team. There are effective ways to show concern and participate while not disrupting care processes. Inviting the staff to engage you as a partner is a good first step.

The Joint Commission (the organization that accredits hospitals) makes the following suggestions for helping keep your child safe during surgery:

  • Ask that sleep medicines be given to your child at the hospital so the care team can observe how your child might react to these medications.
  • Build a relationship with the health care team by learning about their qualifications and asking them about their experience. This should ideally make you feel informed and comfortable with their ability to perform the surgery.
  • Ask the surgeon to “sign the site” of the part of the body to be operated on while you are with your child. The only mark should be on the part to be operated on.
  • Ask to stay with your child until he or she falls asleep.

Preventing falls

Falls in hospitals are a significant problem and patients of all ages are vulnerable to them, especially the elderly. Falls often happen when patients who shouldn’t move by themselves try to get up to use the restroom. If you need to get out of bed, you should:

  • Use your call button to ask for help in getting to the restroom or to walk around the hallway
  • Wear non-slip socks or footwear that fit well.
  • Lower the bed height and side rails.
  • Talk to your health care team if your medicine makes you feel unsteady or dizzy. If you are sleepy, light-headed, sluggish or confused, ask about getting a different medication so you feel more like yourself.
Doctor with elderly patient

Helping hospitalized family members

As a family member or loved one of a hospitalized patient, you are an integral member of the health care team. The more informed you are about their care, the better! Here’s what to do:

  • Explain early on that you are there to help your family member and are part of the team caring for them.
  • Be present for rounds, shift changes and any major conferences with the care team. If you are not invited, ask when these events are likely to happen. Hospital schedules aren’t perfect, but team members may be able to coordinate schedules if you communicate with them.
  • Take notes for you and for your family member.
  • When the patient is recovering from surgery, request that you or another trusted family member stay overnight.
  • Arrange with other loved ones to tag team staying with the patient. If you are exhausted, you will not be as helpful as another, well-rested family member. Let the care team know who will be there in your place, especially if the person is staying overnight.
  • Visit the hospital library to get accurate, reliable information on the patient’s condition. A librarian can help point you to respected websites for disease and treatment information, and provide you with reading materials you might not be able to get online. Your public library can help with this too.