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Archive for the 'Medical Errors / Mistakes / Misdiagnosis' Category

Healthy Travel Tips for the Holidays

This column first appeared
in the Syracuse Post Standard
November 22, 2011

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You may be among the millions of Americans who will travel during the upcoming holidays. Travel takes you out of your normal environment and disturbs your routine. If you have health issues, like a chronic disease, an injury, or even a short-term illness, it’s smart to prepare ahead of time for those changes and accommodate for them where possible.  You’ll want to be sure your travel doesn’t upset your health, and your health doesn’t upset your travel.

Drugs, supplements and supplies:  Pack enough to cover the days you’ll be away, plus extra, in case flights are delayed or a blizzard closes the roads. If you fly, remember that airlines can lose checked bags, so keep all medical supplies with you in your carry-on bag. Any time difference at your destination may require an adjustment of your drug routine. Make yourself a chart ahead of time to keep your regimen on schedule.

Airport security:  The TSA has strict rules about what can, or cannot go through security.  Medications, oxygen, inhalers and other medical items must be packed in certain ways, and will be screened through x-ray machines. Go online before you fly to learn to learn how to get your medical equipment or materials through security.  http://1.usa.gov/TSAMedical

Foods:  Alert your host ahead of time if you have special dietary requirements, or if certain foods upset your digestion. Mention any food allergies you have or conflicts with drugs you take. Plans can be made to accommodate your needs when they are discussed ahead of time.

Contagious diseases:  Of course, holiday time is often cold and flu time, too.  Get your flu shot prior to travel. Wash or sanitize your hands as often as possible, and keep them away from your mouth, nose or eyes. If you are highly susceptible or your immune system is compromised, consider wearing a face mask to protect yourself from others who might be contagious. If you have a cold, then cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands, to prevent infecting others.

Long Distance Travel:  If you’ll be sitting for great lengths of time in a car or plane, you risk potentially deadly blood clots in your legs called DVT (deep vein thrombosis.). Keep your blood circulating by taking hourly breaks to walk around and stretch.

These travel preparations will keep you healthier and will make your visit more enjoyable, too.

Here are some additional resources for
making sure you stay healthy while traveling:

•  Tips for Healthy Travel
Before You Go, As You Travel, and At Your Destination

•  Tips for Healthy International Travel

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Want More Patient Empowerment?
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About.com Patient Empowerment

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Patient Empowerment Tips

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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Want More Patient Empowerment?
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About.com Patient Empowerment

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Patient Empowerment Tips

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

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Want More Patient Empowerment?
Find Hundreds of Articles at:

Every Patient’s Advocate

About.com Patient Empowerment

…and…
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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

Where’ve You Been Trisha?

Wish I had a nickel for each of the emails I’ve received from people who have followed this blog of mine…. Where have I been?  It’s a fair question.  It’s been months since I’ve blogged here… because, well, I’ve been doing my Willie Nelson thang… on the road again….

See all those stars on the map?  That’s where I’ve been.

(OK – I didn’t abandon my blogging completely.  I still blog at About.com several times each week, and I blog for patient advocates at the AdvoConnection blog, too…. )

But now I’m finally home to stay for a few weeks and can share with you some of the marvelous places I have visited, and more importantly, the wonderful, dedicated people I have met and learned from!

So many different audiences, so many interests in how patients access, perceive, are helped, and hurt.  From seniors, to medical students, to patient advocates, to providers, to employers, to pharma marketers, to patient activists – 14 different presentations, each one different, and each an opportunity to learn – from those who hoped to learn from me.

Here are a few audience highlights:

Patients:  I love patient audiences.  They have already figured out that they need tools to get better healthcare, so they don’t come to hear me speak unless they are already invested in the information.  They infuse themselves into the conversation – often agreeing with what I have to say, and sometimes disagreeing, too (which is how I learn from them what their hurdles are).  I had several opportunities to speak to groups of patients, on a variety of topics ranging from defensive medicine, to how to stay safe in the hospital, to how healthcare reform will affect us all. I had the privilege of speaking to, and meeting new patient audiences in Syracuse and Liverpool, New York, Sarasota, Florida and San Diego (through a program with Consumer’s Union).

Medical students: I had two opportunities to spend time with health professions students – one of my most important audiences.  If we can get our messages out to these young people while they are in the midst of learning their new skills, we have a better chance of improving our patient experiences.  From the 1 Health Program at the University of Minnesota, which includes not just future doctors, but future nurses, allied health professionals and veterinarians, to the Personalized Medicine 101 course at Upstate Medical – it was a real treat to swap thoughts and ideas with these eager-to-learn young adults.  My thanks to Sue Kostka, RN and Dr. Judith Buchanan at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Robert West at Upstate for believing in my ability to add to their students’ educations.

Employers:  My first opportunity to share patient empowerment with employers took place in New York City in October.  My point to them was that empowering their employees can improve employee health, confidence, and everyone’s bottom line.  I will be frank that I was disappointed in how the message was received – or wasn’t.  To me it is so obvious.  But I don’t believe I did a good enough job making the case.  Back to that employee drawing board which I realize requires more data – data that isn’t yet easily available, as near as I can tell.

Patient Activists:  Do you like that term?  My most recent adventure — some time in Orlando at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s Annual Forum.  The IHI provided scholarships – all expenses paid — to 50 of us who are involved in patient safety initiatives.  An incredible opportunity to meet some of the folks I have been in touch with for years, but have never met.  One of my patient advocate colleagues, Ken Farbstein, suggested it was like going to your class reunion, only this time we were the cool kids.  I’ve written more about this almost overwhelming experience.  We patient activists cannot thank the IHI, in particular CEO Maureen Bisognano and Paul Levy, enough for their recognition of the importance of our work, or their generosity in providing the means to bring us together.

Patients’ Advocates:  OK – I’ll admit it.  Patient advocates are my favorite audience.  I had two opportunities to meet new advocates and talk about this quickly emerging field.  As the proprietor of AdvoConnection for patients and AdvoConnection for advocates, I have a lot to say!  In an ongoing relationship with Michelle Gilmore of Heartwood Health, who holds numerous workshops during the year in Oakland, California plus the NAHAC Conference in Washington, DC where more than 100 advocates convened, it was an incredibly exhilarating experience to be in the presence of these patient advocates and navigators who are dedicated to improving healthcare for individuals, one-on-one.

As you can see, I’ve enjoyed an incredible few months.  As you will experience in the future – I have learned so much more than I imparted during those talks and presentations!

I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with you over the next weeks and months, in hopes of improving your healthcare experiences, too.

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PS – If you are looking for a health topic speaker for your event, please take a look at my credentials, then give me a call.