07/15/2013 03:19 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

An Educated Consumer Is the Best Customer... Even in a Hospital Setting

A woman who had been declared "brain dead" wakes up while surgeons are preparing her body for organ removal. A shudder went through me when I read about this in the International Business Times and then again read about it on a CBS News Web posting.

How do these things happen? How could a woman who was declared brain dead not actually be brain dead? The circumstances, in hindsight, seem so obvious. The woman had overdosed on drugs and was in a deep coma. Proper procedures seem not to have been followed in determining that she was actually brain dead. And, yet, the signs that she was not brain dead were not "obvious enough" to the medical team until she opened her eyes in the operating room. Horror of horrors we think... and we should think so!

And, yet, there is another aspect of this that needs to be looked at without this horrible situation setting organ donation back years and years to where people are afraid to agree to be organ donors or to where families are more than reluctant to agree to organ donation. Loved ones need to be advocates for the person who is in the hospital, whether it is to agree to organ donation or to ensure that correct medications are being given to a patient who is not able to make that determination him or herself. Every person who is hospitalized needs to have a patient advocate by their side as much as possible. While this is not an ideal situation for either the patients' family and/or loved ones, it is very important because medical errors do happen. The federal government estimates that 180,000 Medicare recipients die each year from hospital mistakes. [1] I could not find statistics for those who are not on Medicare, but from what I have read, the numbers are quite high.

Since 2008, Medicare has not reimbursed hospitals for the care incurred by the (medical error) events -- including air bubbles in the bloodstream, falls, bedsores, infusions with the wrong blood type, urinary tract infections, blood infections, uncontrolled blood-sugar levels and foreign objects left in the body after surgery. [2] Medicare has set up a website where you can compare hospitals. And hospitals are trying to ensure that every patient is safe, but errors do happen.

There are specific criteria that doctors/hospitals are supposed to follow before declaring someone "brain dead." In 2010, new guidelines were issued, which you can read about. This is one area that it is really important that you understand, since as in the case above, there is a slight chance that a misdiagnosis can happen.

An educated patient and/or advocate is the best way to ensure that someone is receiving the safest care possible. Ask questions. Then keep asking them if you do not understand or are not sure. Our medical personnel are human and can make mistakes, just like any of us. So, be sure to get all the information you need/want and be sure that you don't have any lingering questions or doubts. As a commercial for a business used to say, "An educated consumer is our best customer." This is no more imperative than when one is facing a health issue.

Organ donation is an important part of our giving back to those who are awaiting a functioning organ when our bodies no longer have need of those organs. It is also a very individual and private decision that one should consider while one is still healthy. If you want to be an organ donor, make sure that you let your loved ones and the person whom you have designated as your health care proxy or agent knows that. Also, be sure to signify it on your driver's license.

Organ donation is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to another who is in need so that they can continue to live when our body dies. So many people of all ages are waiting for organs to be donated, so don't let this unusual situation deter you from being an organ donor. But, be educated, be a good advocate for one who is hospitalized. Also, remember that those caring for people who are ill are human as well. Treat them with respect, but know that you have certain rights as a patient and/or a loved one and you also have responsibilities. One of them is to be educated about whatever health issue arises.


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