Patient safety is hot topic in healthcare

Kent Aikin, MD Enlargephoto

Kent Aikin, MD

Ensuring safe care for patients who require care in the hospital setting has always been an important issue for healthcare providers and institutions, but it has become a front-and-center topic of discussion in recent years. National Patient Safety Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Patient Safety Foundation ( is March 3-9. Southwest Health System hospitalist Kent Aikin, MD, says that patient safety is top of mind for nurses, physicians, and all healthcare providers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. "There are many factors to consider related to patient safety," said Aikin. "Reducing the risk of medication errors is, to me, the number one issue."

Nurses, pharmacists, and doctors have many procedures in place to make sure that each patient receives the medications they are prescribed correctly - the right drug, in the right dosage, at the right time. Patients have a role to play in avoiding medication errors, as well, according to Aikin. "When patients are aware and knowledgeable about what they are taking, the chance of them being given the wrong drug or one that will interact negatively with something they're taking is greatly reduced," he said. It's also important for patients to be upfront with nurses and doctors about all medications they take (including over-the-counter and recreational drugs, vitamins, and supplements) and to inform healthcare providers about any allergies they have.

Aikin suggests that everyone, no matter their age or health status, maintain a list of medications they are currently taking, keep it updated, and keep it with them. Wallet-sized cards designed for this purpose are available for free at Southwest Memorial Hospital. Having a medication list available in the event that emergency department or inpatient hospital treatment is needed allows caregivers to know what medications are currently being taken and to avoid administering duplicate or contraindicated drugs. "This list is an excellent source of information for healthcare providers," said Aikin. All too often, he noted, patients will say, for example, that they take a blue pill in the morning and a red pill twice a day. "There are a lot of red and blue pills out there," he said.

Hospitalized patients can be proactive in reducing their risk of receiving an incorrect medication by being vocal. "Patients should feel comfortable asking nurses what's being administered each time they're being given a medication," said Aikin. Doing so helps raise awareness and keeps everyone on their toes.

Patients who are admitted to the hospital should bring their current medication bottles with them; however, in almost all cases those drugs will be administered by nursing staff over the course of the stay. "So many medications can interact that we need to have control over what patients are taking while they're in our care," said Aikin.

Preventing hospital-acquired infections is another important patient safety goal, and one that is getting a lot of attention due to a rise of antibiotic-resistant "super bugs." Fortunately, this has not been a significant problem locally because hospital staff are trained and regularly re-trained in techniques to help prevent the spread of infections. Hand washing is the most important activity that anyone can do to prevent infection. Here again, patients can take an active role in ensuring their safety while in the hospital. "Patients should be bold and ask each nurse and doctor whether they've washed their hands before administering treatment," said Aikin. "Patients may be reluctant to do this, but hospital staff expect to be asked and we encourage it."

Because hospitalized patients are ill and more susceptible to getting infections, it's important for friends and family not to visit if they themselves are not feeling well. When visitors do call on patients in the hospital, they should wash their hands before and after the visit or use the hand sanitizer that is available in wall dispensers all around the building.

Another step that hospital staff members take to keep patients safe is asking them their name and date of birth and checking their hospital ID bracelet frequently. This may seem redundant to patients but the procedure ensures that Mrs. Jones is not taken down for an x-ray that was ordered for Mrs. Smith who is in the room across the hall, and that patients are given the correct medications and even the correct meal trays.

One simple step that patients can take while they're in the hospital to ensure their own safety is to tell nurses and doctors if they experience any new symptoms or significant change in the way they're feeling. Patients know their bodies better than anyone and clear communication with healthcare providers is an important factor in safety, quality care, and positive clinical outcomes.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal healthcare provider.

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