Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Questions Can Keep Patients Safe

By E’Louise Ondash, RN

Nurses take pride in being right.

We know what we’re doing, we know what’s best for our patients, and we usually don’t like being challenged. So when a patient or a family member asks questions, we may feel as though we are being unjustly interrogated or not doing our best. But when it comes to patient safety, nurses should both welcome and accept questions because we need all the help we can get.

Statistics on hospital errors in this country are staggering. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

• There are approximately 400,000 drug-related injuries in hospitals annually.

• An estimatedt 180,000 Medicare beneficiaries die annually from accidents and errors in hospitals.

• Each year, up to 10 percent of all hospitalized patients contract preventable infections while in the hospital, and nearly 100,000 people die from preventable infections.

• An estimated 6,000 “serious errors” occur every month to Medicare beneficiaries. This includes mistakes like operating on the wrong limb, injecting the wrong medication or leaving materials in the body during surgery.

Hospital staffs everywhere are working to reduce these numbers by putting into place protocols and systems that will help decrease errors. One element of this safety movement is learning to listen to patients and their families and encouraging them to ask questions, even if that means we must take extra time to listen or explain.

Nurses should be aware, too, that consumers are being told that they and/or their families must be watchdogs and that asking questions is necessary and wise.

In 2007, the Joint Commission mandated that health care organizations "encourage patients' active involvement in their own care as a patient safety strategy,” and studies have shown that patients who are involved with their care have better outcomes.

So the next time you encounter a patient or family member who expresses doubt or confusion about what you are doing or questions doctors’ orders, thank them, answer their questions and encourage them to continue such inquiries. Their questions might prevent a serious medical error.

If you are a veteran nurse, have you seen over the years a change in patients’ willingness to question their care?

How do you feel when patients or families express misgivings about their care?

Tell us about it.


John said...

Coming from a patient's POV: More often than not, patients are in the hospital for something serious. When it comes to our health being endangered, questions often comfort us/keep us up to speed on what is happening.
When patients are admitted into the hospital, it's as if they are admitted into something unknown, not knowing what is going to happen to them. Therefore, questions (in most cases) come from fear, worry and anxiety. Answers to these help sooth the mind and can bring calmness. Even for the patient's family or close friends. Helps them to know what is happening and why something is being performed a certain way. Good post- thank you!

Anonymous said...

As a nurse, I never mind questions and always try to keep my patients informed. Telling patients what you're doing and why, what to expect, etc. is just good practice. As a family member of a patient in the hospital, the nurses who kept me up to speed on my family members condition and answered my questions without sounding like they were giving a lecture were a godsend and did wonders for my peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

I've been on the other side of the bed, too, and am ever so grateful that most nurses are willing to answer questions or even provide info before I ask. I usually identify myself as a nurse and that seems to signal a different level of engagement. Over the years, I've thankfully only experienced one or two inconsiderate nurses. Glad to know most of us are doing everything right!