03/12/2013 10:36 am ET Updated May 12, 2013

Safe Health Care for All During Patient Safety Awareness Week

Guess how many medication errors occur every year in the United States? The best estimate is 1.5 million medication errors with a cost of $3.5 billion in extra health care costs. This is just one of six parameters of patient safety monitored by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF). In addition to medication errors headlines, the past two years have included: a patient losing his leg because after surgery a cuff from a drain was left in too long and he had an almost fatal blood clot, a pregnant woman had a feeding tube inserted into an intravenous tube in her arm and both her and the baby died, and several newborn babies died from receiving 100 times the heparin ordered. These are just a few of the thousands of mistakes that happen every year.

Initially, you may want to blame one person and punish them. But mistakes in health care are much more complex. Most errors result from multifaceted problems such as poor communication, inadequate staffing of nurses, or records and charting that is not up to date with technology. The answer is for each person as a consumer to take responsibility for his or her own health. Be open and talk with your provider about any questions or concerns and always feel comfortable speaking with a nurse.

Nurses are consistently the most trusted profession, according to Gallup Polls the past five years. As a pediatric nurse and nursing professor, I take the public trust very seriously. Since nurses spend more time with patients than any other health care professional, it's critical to know where to get the best health care and the best nursing care. Unfortunately, there are significant risks associated with health care, especially hospitalization. Do you know how safe your doctor or your hospital is? Most people don't. Tragically, as reported by the Institute of Medicine in 1999, more than 90,000 people a year die from medical errors or adverse events. Providers are focusing more on the following common mistakes or risks: wrong site surgery, health care acquired infections, falls, medication errors, and diagnostic errors. Each adverse event can be prevented with provider and institutional awareness and vigilance. You can find out about your provider's safety records by simply asking your provider or looking up the hospital report card on line. The Agency for Health Research and Quality has many resources to ensure quality health care.

In honor of patient safety week, the Agency for Health Research and Quality has made a list of 22 ways to keep patients safe. I have condensed the list to just eight that are focused specifically on patients.

There are a few easy steps to take to making sure that you get the safest care available. Here they are:

1. Research your provider and hospital by searching for the hospital report card on your state department of public health website.
2. Make sure your doctor or nurse is licensed and has no reprimands.
3. Hospitals that are Magnet certified are generally much better.
4. Have a friend or family go with you while you are getting care.
5. Bring all your medical records and medications along on each visit.
6. Insist on each provider washing their hands before they interact with you.
7. Ask questions when you are confused or unsure.
8. Make sure you know the plan of care at each step.

With these simple steps, you will reduce your risk of compromised safety significantly. Become comfortable being a health care consumer. No one else will be as concerned about your health and well-being. So trust nurses, but be smart and informed as a consumer for the best outcome.

For more by Kim Siarkowski Amer, click here.

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