MYTH #4: Hospitals Are Sterile Houses of Healing
It’s tempting — and certainly convenient — to believe that hospitals are squeaky clean and sterile. You’d like to think the floors, or at least other surfaces, are so immaculate you could eat off them. But it’s simply not the case.
Despite many hospitals’ diligent attempts to keep hospital-acquired infections under control, your room and even your doctor probably carry nasty drug-resistant germs that could kill you, or at least make you very sick and keep you in the hospital longer — exposing you to even more germs. Microbes such as bacteria that cause staph infections lurk on bed rails, bedside tables, IV poles, and various pieces of equipment that touch you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.7 million people develop infections while staying in, or immediately following discharge from, US hospitals each year. Nearly 100,000 die.
Human error is partly to blame. For instance, doctors all too often neglect to take the simple step of washing their hands between patients, and most don’t disinfect the stethoscope that recently touched another patient’s chest.
Germs aren’t the only deadly dangers. We’ve already mentioned the disturbing problem of medical errors, which are common enough to be the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Among the most common blunders that occur in hospitals are mistakes in prescribing and administering medications. For many in-patients, receiving the wrong drug or an incorrect dose is as much a part of the hospital experience as bad food. According to “Preventing Medication Errors,” a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, the typical hospital patient either gets the wrong medicine, receives the incorrect dose, or fails to receive a needed medication at least once per day.