All it took was a seemingly small prescription dosing error to send Elizabeth Bailey’s father—a healthy, intelligent man who was living on his own in New York City and still practicing law at the age of 81—into a downward health spiral. The mistake triggered an episode of steroid-induced psychosis, which led to a worsening of his mild diabetes, followed by a month-long hospital stay and admission to a psychiatric ward for additional recovery.
The harrowing experience opened up Bailey’s eyes to just how challenging it can be for patients and their caregivers to navigate our health care and hospital systems. It also inspired her to write The Patient’s Checklist: 10 Simple Hospital Checklists to Keep You Safe, Sane, & Organized. These alarming stats from her book reinforce her personal experience:
• Each hospital patient experiences one medication mistake per day, on average.
• Every six minutes, a patient dies in a U.S. hospital because of a hospital-acquired infection.
• Sixty-five percent of identified adverse patient events had communication breakdowns as a factor.
To sort through the “overwhelming amount of information, treatments, and personnel [patients] will encounter during a hospital stay,” Bailey created 10 essential lists to help patients and their families understand their hospital care, guard against simple human errors and medication mistakes, and promote kindness and respect between providers and patients. Among her top tips:
1. “Friend” nurses and aides. Nurses can be important partners to patients and their families—they spend the most time with you and know your care and routines best. Family members should let the nurses know you’re on their side, and that you want to help them in the care of your loved one. Maintain lines of communication, especially when you’ve been away from the hospital. If your loved one was alone overnight, catch up with the night nurse before her shift ends—and make a note of the conversation in a journal.
2. Use doctors, nurses, and aides’ names. One study found that 75 percent of patients couldn’t remember the name of any doctor who took care of them in the hospital. Using names fosters a human connection and can help you avoid feeling anonymous and dehumanized.
3. Make yourself at home. Get comfortable in your room: Learn how to use the TV, the phone, the call button, and the bed. Make sure you’re not too cold, which can slow down the healing process. Ask for extra blankets and make sure your hands and feet are the right temperature. Keep pens and paper handy so you can easily jot down notes about your care.
4. Keep things clean. Hospital rooms are germ magnets—in fact, 75 percent of rooms are contaminated with bacteria that can cause staph infections. It’s especially important to wipe down surfaces that aren’t likely to be cleaned regularly, like tables, chair armrests, bed railings, and the remote control. Wash your hands and use sanitizer often; ask all visitors to do so too.
5. Say thank you to everyone who helps take care of you.
6. Keep track of everything. Know every medication you’re taking, what it looks like, why you’re taking it, who prescribed it to you, and how often to take it.
In addition, keep a daily journal to document other aspects of your care, including that day’s nurses and doctors, any additional surgeries, tests, or treatments, or changes in medications, and how you feel. Are you in pain? Do you feel good, bad, anxious, tired, bored?
7. Find ways to feel happy. Hold hands with friends and family, since touch is healing and comforting. Laugh every day—it releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
8. Speak softly. The decibel level on a hospital floor can reach that of a busy street, and it’s important to create a sense of calm. Speaking softly also shows consideration for any roommates.