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.
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According to news reports, one official blamed bad scores on outdated statistics.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.
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.
Seven years ago this week, I found a golf ball sized lump on my torso that changed the course of my life. After its removal, I was diagnosed with a rare, terminal form of lymphoma. Subsequently I determined I didn’t really have lymphoma. That was eventually confirmed medically, and I have never had treatment.
The fact that my tumor appeared in the month of July played a prominent role in my misdiagnosis.
When we need medical care, we need to receive the best care possible. That best care requires a team of professionals playing different roles, depending on what ails us. From doctors and surgeons, to nurses, lab specialists and others, the team must conduct itself in a highly coordinated and collaborative manner to be sure we get the right answers and care. They dance a well-coordinated healthcare tango because each knows the right steps.
But sometimes there’s someone new on the team who doesn’t know how to tango. A new dancer can cause the entire team to stumble or fall. When that happens, we patients suffer.
July brings many new team members.
First, many of the “regular” professionals take vacations beginning with the July Fourth holiday, throughout the summer. That means new, sometimes temporary replacements must step in. They may only know how to waltz.
The second set of new members are recently graduated medical students. Having just completed their studies in May and June, they begin their residencies July 1. Not only don’t they know how to function within the team, but they have barely learned the two-step. A study reported in 2010 showed that counties with academic medical hospitals showed a 10 percent increase in medical mistakes in in July.
So how can we patients protect ourselves?
If possible, avoid medical care in July. In particular, any care that will require you to be hospitalized should be handled either before July 1, or postponed, if possible.
If you can’t avoid medical care in July, then be sure to verify every step with an advocate’s help. This includes double checking any lab work that yields unusual results, which – yes – was the root of my misdiagnosis.
No doubt those professionals who care for us in July have the very best intentions. But doing a tango with someone who only knows how to waltz results in toe-stepping and bad results. If possible, it’s a dance we patients should just sit out.
When it comes to TV and video, Al Roker provides one of my favorite quotations:
“They say the camera adds 10 pounds. OK. So I figure I must be standing in front of 10 cameras.”
Oh, yes, Al. I know how you feel….
However — I’ve decided to come out of my video-avoidance closet to share the following with you all.
First — my excitement at the invitation a week ago to appear on MSNBC to speak to a problem that I actually cited a few years ago – that July is the worst month of the year to be hospitalized. Why? Watch and see!
So that’s the first one. But if I’m going to jump in to the world of video, I might as well do it with both feet. Many of you know that I am brought in to speak at various conferences and meetings across the US and Canada. I enjoy speaking! So in my attempts to do even more of it, I’m told I need to have a professional video made. So, yes, I finally bit that bullet, too, and have uploaded the online version of the opening here.
It’s not like I’ve never done TV before – I have done local TV on a number of occasions. And broadcast isn’t the problem – ferheavensake, I have hosted a radio show for 4+ years! But video, in general, has just always been a step I’ve avoided.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a flu vaccine commentary and poll after listening to Dr. Dean Edell on the radio. He was talking about people who refuse to get vaccinated. He made the comment that vaccines have been proven effective for decades, and he’s tired of trying to defend them. That if people refuse to get vaccinated, and die — well — that’s just a way to clean out the gene pool.
Readers of the post took offense, calling me arrogant and ignorant. Among them are people who are truly afraid, people who are allergic, people who feel as if they have done their due diligence and have dismissed vaccines (empowered patients!) — and conspiracy theorists.
I wrote a follow up post, citing highly credible sources for all to see, showing why I believe flu vaccines are so important. The bottom line is that the flu is dangerous — both the H1N1 swine flu and the seasonal flu are killers. Vaccines are the only defense we have today (who knows – maybe we’ll have something better in the future?) And the statistics tell us that we have a 591% better chance of dying from the flu than we do dying from the flu vaccine. You don’t have to be a Las Vegas gambler to understand those odds.
I am actually VERY pleased that so many people have given researched thought and consideration to the question – even the ones who disagree with me. However — I must say — I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with the flu vaccine conspiracy theorists…. seriously. And if you are one, I say to you — get a life!
Here are the conspiracy theorists’ arguments. They remind me of a saying I heard many years ago — “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.” Further – they have violated the first rule of questionable healthcare practices, and that is – Follow the Money.
Here are some of their lines of reasoning, and my comments:
1. Flu vaccine is only produced to make pharmaceutical companies richer. To that I say — don’t be silly. For the cost, personnel and too tiny profits to be made by producing vaccine, pharmaceutical manufacturers would much prefer to put their efforts into producing something that actually makes a worthwhile profit for them. Included is the manufacturing are symptoms relievers — far FAR more profitable in the long run. Why would they want to prevent an illness at very little profit at the expense of bigger profits from medicine that could relieve or fix us?
2. Flu vaccines were developed from African Green Monkeys - and the real intent is to eradicate the population of the earth! This one gets the “give me a break” award on so many counts… First… if the government wanted to eradicate the entire population of the earth, they could do it FAR more efficiently by using, oh, say anthrax or dengue fever – or some other killer. Why would they go to all the trouble to develop something that actually took science? Why not a shortcut, and something cheap to do it?
3. And then I have to ask – why would the government (which government anyway?) want to eradicate the world’s population? If the government eradicated the world’s population, then who would be left to govern? and who would be left to pay taxes to that government? and who would be in charge anyway? (because the government is comprised of people who would get sick, too)…. etc etc….
Sorry — but these theories are just plain laughable. You want a conspiracy? I think there’s a conspiracy to make me waste my time looking these things up — because I do my due diligence, unlike some of my readers.
Here’s the deal — I understand that not everyone wants to be injected with flu vaccines, and even that some must avoid vaccines because their bodies cannot tolerate them. However — for the great majority of us (GREAT majority) — flu shots will keep us healthier — and will keep our loved ones and those around us healthier — than not getting flu shots will.
Further — as reasonable people, we need to understand that unless we have a real concern about negative effects of vaccines, we must accept responsibility for passing possibly deadly flu on to others when we don’t get the flu vaccine. H1N1 or seasonal — they are both killers. I’m not willing to be responsible for making someone else sick, nor chancing that they could die. I would not be able to sleep at night.