5 tips to help you stay safe during medical treatment

It’s been 20 years since the Institute of Medicine published its landmark report To Err is Human. It found that as many as 98,000 people were dying each year from preventable medical errors, prompting an industrywide patient safety effort that has spanned the past two decades.

An editorial published in JAMA Dec. 29, 2020, notes that in the years since that report came out, hospitals and doctors have made numerous changes that have succeeded in reducing preventable problems, such as hospital-acquired infections, falls, and medication-related errors. But more work remains to be done. Mistakes still happen.

While some of these errors are outside your control, there are important steps you can take to help protect yourself from some of the more common mistakes that may occur, says Dr. David Bates, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Below are five simple tips that you can use to make your medical care safer.

1. Know your medications. Incidents where people are injured when they use the wrong medication, take the wrong dose, or experience a dangerous drug interaction result in more than 3.5 million doctor visits, more than one million emergency room visits, and 125,000 hospital admissions each year, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

To avoid potential problems with the drugs you are taking, be certain you know not only what medicines you are taking, but what they are for. “Today it’s pretty simple to have your doctor print out a list for you,” says Dr. Bates. Also take advantage of the online patient portals that many doctor’s offices now offer. This will allow you to locate all your medications, lab test results, and notes from your doctor. Update your medication list frequently and provide updates to your doctor and others involved in your care.

“If you have to stop taking a medication due to an adverse effect or reaction, it is especially important to let your doctor know,” says Bates. In addition, check with your doctor periodically to make sure you still need to be taking all the medications on the list and that none of the drugs you are taking has negative interactions with another.

2. Take advantage of technology. If you or a loved one is taking multiple medications, mistakes become more likely. It’s easy to forget a pill or take the wrong one at the wrong time.

There are a number of useful medication-related apps that can help, says Dr. Bates. Not only can you use an app to keep track of a drug regimen, you can even link your smartphone to an electronic pillbox that takes note when a pill is removed. “This is especially good if you are caring for someone who has trouble remembering to take medications,” says Dr. Bates.

Other apps may provide you with drug interaction warnings.

3. Speak up. In general, if you’re not feeling comfortable about your medical care or an upcoming surgery or other procedure, the most important thing you can do is ask questions. “There’s no downside to being proactive, or saying ‘I have this new symptom, do you think that it could be due to one of my drugs?'” says Dr. Bates.

Also notify your health care provider if something seems off. For example, people who have common last names should be sure that they are getting the treatment that’s intended for them. And if the treatment doesn’t sound quite right, double check. “There have been cases where someone was asked to take 20 antibiotic pills at one time. If someone asks you to do something that seems weird, chances are a mistake has been made,” says Dr. Bates.

4. Enlist support. If you need to visit the emergency room, when possible, bring someone who can ask questions for you, especially if you aren’t able to advocate for yourself. In the rushed emergency room environment, people or potential problems are sometimes overlooked.

“There can be differences in how seriously the staff takes a specific complaint,” says Dr. Bates. “Emergency rooms are very stretched right now. You don’t want to be told to wait when you have a complaint that really should get attention sooner.”

5. Navigate high-risk situations. Many treatments that used to be done in a hospital setting, such as cancer treatments, are now done in the home, raising the risk for more serious errors, says Dr. Bates. These situations can involve taking powerful medications, so it’s crucial to make sure you are using the right medication and taking it properly. If you’re in this situation, ask questions and make sure that you understand your instructions. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor’s office to confirm what you need to do.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Psalm 86:15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 136:26 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever. Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

Ephesians 2:4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Romans 8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord .Isaiah 54:10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.2 Thessalonians 3:5May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

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