Patient Safety: Are Hospitals Safe?

Some say that Thanksgiving is the one of the busiest days of the year for hospitals. If you end up in the hospital are you really in good hands or are you being cared for by an intern who has had little sleep and is afraid to talk to their attending?  In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about how cockpit communication and hierarchy lead to plane crashes.  The aviation industry has since shaped up its act, but the healthcare industry has not.  The culture of the hospital is still very hierarchical; in most hospitals employees use formal prefixes to refer to Dr’s and there is a clear seniority divide between nurses, interns, attendings and surgeons.  Nurses and interns are afraid to speak up if senior level doctor makes a mistake, and senior level doctors are afraid to admit mistakes.  Business school students pour over detailed case studies of the failures of top executives and companies, while medical students are memorizing information they could find online in less than 3 minutes. Mistakes happen, they need to be pointed out, admitted to and studied.

Here are some scary facts from Pat Mastors’s book, “Design to Survive”

  • Infections in hospitals kill 99,000 people each year, more than AIDS, car accidents and breast cancer combined
  • U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times per week
  • The CDC estimates that half of antibiotics in the United States are inappropriately prescribed
  • Research published in April 2012 by the American Journal for Infection Control reveals that 92% percent of hospital privacy curtains were contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria such as MRSA and VRE
  • Hand-hygiene compliance by health care workers in many facilities hovers around 50%
  • For decades no one has been charged with inspecting hospitals for cleanliness, or mandating that they are clean at all
  • At the University of Maryland, 65% of medical personnel confessed they change their lab coat less than once a week
  • Up to 195,000 people die each year of potentially preventable medical errors
  • A Boston Globe investigation found 200 patients died in recent five-year period because nurses didn’t hear or failed to react with urgency to beeping alarms

If you or a loved one ends up in the hospital, here are some resources to keep you and your loved ones safe

How to find the best hospital

  • Hospital Compare-US Department of Health and Human Services reports on outcomes data for physicians hospitals and nursing homes
  • ZocDoc-Publishes reviews about providers from verified patients
  • Angie’s List-Provides a list of top doctors and dentists from 5 years worth of data from patients.  The site also provides a tool to confirm medical licencing
  • Certification Matters– The American Board of Medical Specialties provides a search tool to determine if your provider is Board Certified
  • Americas Best Hospitals– US News ranks over 5,000 hospitals every year
  • Healthgrades – provides a list of Americas best hospitals based solely on clinical quality outcomes and provides reviews of providers and hospitals
  • RateMDs-allows patients to write and read reviews of their doctors
  • Hopsital Safety Score-the Leapfrog group grades hospitals on how safe they keep their patients from errors, accidents, injuries and infections
  • Patient Satisfaction Scores– The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS) surveys patients on the following topics: communication with doctors, communication with nurses, responsiveness of hospital staff, pain management, communication about medicines, discharge information, cleanliness of the hospital environment, quietness of the hospital environment, and transition of care

If you do not have insurance or have a high deductible, research the costs for procedures

  • Clear Health Costs-provides pricing information for treatments, surgeries and other medical procedures or visits
  • Medibid-provides a platform for providers to bid on procedures for self-pay patients
  • Snaphealth-online health care search engine for purchasing medical and diagnostic services in cash-based transactions
  • Castlight Health-a web application that provides information to patients about healthcare costs, usage, coverage and choices
  • pokitDoc-PokitDok provides enterprise access to market driven provider, treatment and price information for Employers, Payers, and Health networks seeking to reduce expenses and capture lost reimbursements. PokitDok also provides an e-commerce storefront for practitioners seeking to market their services and enable consumers to shop & pay for treatment up front.

Educate yourself on hospital acquired infections and medical errors

Learn as much as you can from other patients who have the same illness and be an engaged patient

  • CureTogether– a platform for patients to talk about sensitive symptoms, compare which treatments work best for them and track their health.
  • Inspire-online patient engagement community
  • Cautious Patient-informs patients of healthcare quality problems and the pitfalls in the healthcare system, teaches them how to find the information they need, and coaches them to interact with the healthcare system effectively to ensure quality treatment
  • Society for Participatory Medicine-a 501(c) 3 is a not-for-profit organization devoted to promoting the concept of participatory medicine, a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health, and in which providers encourage and value them as full partners.
  • e-Patient Dave– is a cancer patient and blogger who, in 2009, became a noted activist for healthcare transformation through participatory medicine and personal health data rights
  • Patients Like Me– provides a better, more effective way for you to share your real-world health experiences in order to help yourself, other patients like you and organizations that focus on your conditions.
  • EmpoweredPatientCoalition– a 501(c)(3) charitable organization created by patient advocates devoted to helping the public improve the quality and the safety of their healthcare. The organization informs, engages and empowers the public with information and resources. They have dozens of free resources located on their companion website at – all written by and for patients.  They also have an app called Empowered Patient that can be found on the iTunes store.
  • RallyHealth-Rally Health thrives at the intersection of ground-breaking technology and improving healthcare outcomes through patient engagement

Get a patient advocate

  • AdvoConnection-a directory of private, independent and professional health and patient advocates
  • Advocate Directory– a directory of people whose mission relates to the improvement of quality and transparency in healthcare, or the provision of services or resources that improve the safety of individual patients
  • Kinergy Health-provides the skilled personal assistance your family needs to ease the adoption of healthcare technologies, access qualified information resources, and identify appropriate services.


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