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Archive for September, 2011

Choosing a Safer Hospital

Please note that this column first appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard on September 27, 2011

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In my last column I shared an open letter to our local hospitals which resulted from my review of their most recent “report cards.”  These report cards score hospitals on their quality of service and safety records. Despite a few improvements, problems were exposed at all of them – problems that continue to put us patients in danger or simply make us miserable.

Think about that. Danger! Too many of us patients enter the hospital with an expectation that, whatever our medical problem is, it will be improved because we have been hospitalized.  Instead we find ourselves the victims of deadly infections, drug errors, falls, surgical mistakes, even crimes.

And think about the second part.  Misery!  When we are at our most vulnerable, perhaps unable to walk on our own, or even stay conscious, we may be at the mercy of staff who ignore our complaints about everything from intense pain, to the need to use the bathroom.

The potential for even more danger and distress is growing, too.  The numbers of hospitalized patients are growing as baby boomers age, and as healthcare reform provides more patients with access to healthcare. As time goes on, the ability of hospital personnel to keep us safe and relatively comfortable will be taxed even further.

So how can we patients ensure our own safety and comfort?  We’ve previously looked at important safety precautions to take during a hospital stay. But the best approach is to begin with safety and satisfaction in mind.  That means reviewing hospitals’ track records before we ever need hospitalization, and making our best choice based on what a hospital has already demonstrated it can do.

Which is why those report cards mentioned in my last column are important.  They are tools we patients can use to help us choose the best hospital.

Let’s use them!

The latest New York Hospital Report Cards can be found at  http://www.myhealthfinder.com/newyork11/ .  Medicare’s website, http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov also offers information about hospital safety and satisfaction levels.

Finally, if you’ve been hospitalized, there’s something you can do to help future patients make hospital decisions.  After a hospital stay, some patients are surveyed about the safety, communications and quality of their care.  By answering and returning the survey, you’ll be contributing to hospital ratings of the future, and providing valuable feedback to help our local hospitals improve their service, too.

……………… ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC ………………

More Hospital Report Cards (more states)

How to Choose the Best Hospital for You

A Patient’s Guide to Hospital Infections

How to Prevent Hospital Infections

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An Open Letter to Hospitals

Please note that this column appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard on September 13, 2011.  It addresses the recently issued New York State Hospital Report Card.  You don’t need to be a resident of Central New York, or even New York State to gain benefit from this column.  Resources for you are found below.

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Dear Central New York Hospitals:

It’s report card time.  That time when we patients get the opportunity to learn whether or not you’ve improved your patient care and outcomes since last year.

I was hoping to find glowing reports. After all, you know exactly what will be measured and what needs to be done to earn the highest grades.  No one’s expecting miracles; just safe and timely care, a clean environment, pain management and effective communications.

But did I find stellar reports?  No.

Granted, the report card says I have less of a chance of catching pneumonia at St. Joes.  And, Community General, congratulations on your infection rate which is lower than the average hospital in New York State.  Both St. Elizabeth’s and Faxton in Utica are doing quite well avoiding Pulmonary Embolisms and Deep Vein Thromboses.

But those are only three high grades among almost four dozen measurements.  My real concerns are for those that registered lower than statewide averages – so low that some patients are dying, acquiring infections, suffering pain, and leaving your facility in worse condition than when they were admitted.  Each one of you earned the lowest possible score in at least three categories.

According to news reports, one official blamed bad scores on outdated statistics. Sorry – that’s no excuse! Your patients are human beings, not statistics.  Perhaps their pain, debilitation or death took place a few years ago, but many of those patients are still in pain, still debilitated and yes, still dead today.

As you know, beginning next year, Medicare will take patient satisfaction survey scores into account when it comes to determining reimbursements. We patients don’t require much to score you highly on those surveys.  We expect only the basics: communicate with us respectfully, prevent infections, avoid mistakes, keep us as pain-free as possible, and send us home with instructions we understand and can carry out.

Put another way:  treat us the way you would treat your own loved ones. Provide for us what you would provide for them.

Such an approach is bound to land you in the top tier on next year’s report card.

Best regards,
Trisha Torrey
Every Patient’s Advocate

PS:  Patients can find New York State hospital report cards by linking to http://www.myhealthfinder.com/newyork11/. Pay particular attention to patient safety and satisfaction measures. Then use those scores to choose where you want to be hospitalized. Your life may depend on it.

……………… ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC ………………

More Hospital Report Cards (more states)

How to Choose the Best Hospital for You

A Patient’s Guide to Hospital Infections

How to Prevent Hospital Infections

……………………………………………………………………………………

Want More Patient Empowerment?
Find Hundreds of Articles at:

Every Patient’s Advocate

About.com Patient Empowerment

…and…
sign up for 2x per month newsletters of
Patient Empowerment Tips

Don’t Let Your Medical Test Results Fall Through the Cracks

(as published in the Syracuse Post Standard August 30, 2011)

A few years ago, I changed primary care doctors.

The one I left had good credentials. Over the span of a few years and several visits, she had seemed competent and was friendly.

But on my final visit, there had been a change that caused me to leave her practice. It came in the form of a sign which hung on the walls in all of her exam rooms.  It said, “Please do not phone us for your test results. We will call you if there is a problem.”

I was stunned; although I knew immediately why she imposed that policy.  It costs time and money to phone all those patients, make copies and mail them.  She decided the expense wasn’t worth the failsafe. As her patient, I found that to be dangerous and unacceptable.

A study published in 2008 illustrates why this is a problem. It focused on mistakes made during the ordering, administering and reporting processes of primary medical care tests.  The report showed that seven percent of results that went unreported to the patient resulted in additional problems for that patient including delays in treatment, further pain and suffering, and more out-of-pocket expense.

Evidently my former primary care doctor finds it acceptable to intentionally drop the ball on care for seven percent of her patients.  Those weren’t odds I was willing to accept.

Few of us visit our doctors anymore, primary care or specialists, without being tested for something.  Blood work, urine tests, a CT, MRI or any other test…. No matter whether the results are perfectly normal, or identify a problem, we need to know where we stand and what to change, if necessary.  Their results are always important, and we patients must always know what they are.

When you are given any sort of medical test, ask how and when the results will be reported to you.  Don’t accept a “don’t call us” reply.  When they phone you with results, ask for a follow-up copy by email or postal mail.  If you don’t hear back when they say you will, call the office of the doctor who ordered the test and bug them until they come through.

Doctors’ practices are becoming busier than ever. It’s easy for test reporting efforts to drop through the cracks.  Don’t let your test results be among them.

……………… ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC ………………

How to Get your Medical Test Results

How Primary Care Doctors are Dropping the Ball on Medical Tests

How to Get your Medical Records

How to Correct Your Medical Records If There Are Mistakes

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Want More Patient Empowerment?
Find Hundreds of Articles at:

Every Patient’s Advocate

About.com Patient Empowerment

…and…
sign up for 2x per month newsletters of
Patient Empowerment Tips