My book, The Patient’s Checklist, grew out of my family’s experience caring for my Dad during a very long hospitalization from an entirely preventable medication error. I learned early on that the single greatest threat to patient safety in hospitals is human error: communication breakdowns resulting from overly fragmented care by overworked doctors and nurses, lapses in the most basic sanitary practices and mistakes in routine care because of the frantic hospital pace. I found that checklists were practical, important reminders to manage the complexities of hospital care. While the book is divided into 10 user-friendly checklists that take you through a hospital stay from beginning to end, in this post I will review a few key points from Checklist 1: Before Your Go.
- Have a support system. Having involved family and friends is the single most important way to ensure better, safer care for any patient within the busy, complicated world of the hospital. If your child has to go to the hospital always remember that you know your child best – how they are in daily life. Your doctor may have critical medical information but as the parent you have critical life information about your child. Never forget that. So trust your instincts. Speak up. Ask questions about everything that is going on around your child in the hospital. Ask your doctors and nurses to explain everything to you using plain language – not medical speak so that you can truly understand what is going on.
- Make sure your doctor knows every prescription medication your child is taking – including any over the counter medication and vitamins. When my son had such terrible asthma as a young child he was on daily medication as well as a nebulizer when his symptoms flared up. I asked our pharmacist to provide me with a complete printout of his prescription medication and kept that and his pediatrician’s card in my wallet at all times. On those occasions when I did have to take him to the emergency I had a print out to show them so there was never a mistake in communication about dosage levels.
- If your child does have to have surgery, find out all the details. If possible, both parents should go to all appointments together. Two sets of ears are always better. Ask questions. Ask your doctor to use plain language. Make sure you understand all the reasons for surgery, the benefits, risks and alternatives.
- Get phone, pager and email contacts for your doctors and their staff in case there is an emergency. Don’t be shy about this – you may need to contact your doctor.