Thursday, December 20, 2012

Who Knows What Really Happens?

Hey You,

Hey, you behind the big wooden desk.  Do you really know what goes on at the patient’s bedside?
When I arrived at the emergency room and visited with the billing department at 6:00 in the morning while the patient was brought into the emergency room, I was greeted by two women who were of another culture.  In between my conversation with one of them doing the billing, they spoke their native language to each other.  It probably would not have affected the patient’s care, but were I the patient, it surely would make me feel uneasy as this is my first impression.
A small community hospital, I was glad to be with a patient using a facility that I would probably use for myself.  Though they don’t have all the trauma needs as a much larger hospital just a short distance away, the fact that it is small, staff are known to be “nice” and this wasn’t a trauma case, I was confident all would go well.  No suspense, it did go well but what I witnessed anyway was still unsettling.
I was asked to sign that I received an admission packet, advanced directives and about 10 items on the list.  When I questioned that we received none of that, the woman handed me a Patient’s Rights manual and explained that everything else on the list is only for Medicare patients.  I wrote “not received / for Medicare only” and signed the bottom information of the form.  It was my impression that the woman handing me the forms to sign may have never read what I was signing.
When I arrived at the patient’s bedside, the nurse treating the patient  was using the light on her phone to check the patient’s throat.  When I commented on this she smiled as she threw her long hair back behind her shoulders and then ran her hands through her hair.
The area between patients was very close.  I can hear what was happening next to us but until the curtain was pulled back could not see.  I do know that next to us was a patient who was preparing to leave.  When she did leave, the curtain was fully pulled back.  The nurse pulled off all the bedding, lifted a nearby bin with her hand and placed the bedding in there.  She then threw over the bed the clean sheets, tied them in the back put a folded blanket on the bed and put equipment out -probably for an IV.  She straightened the bed table and walked away to escort a new patient to another bed, also close by. 
The bed was not washed, the rails were not wiped and the tray table was not cleaned.
I then watched as another nurse pulled bedding off another bed, discarded it and went behind the curtain with another patient.  A pattern I soon realized was quit disheartening.
Still in plain view I watched the nurse go about her duties, never to wash her hands.   I noticed that two sinks on our side of  the room, one right next to me, were dry.   In the short time I was there, they were never used.  As the new patient finished changing into a gown, the same nurse put on gloves, opened the wrapper for the IV and tied off the woman’s arm but before she started the IV she lifted off an IV obviously left from the last patient, opened a bin (I assume this was the garbage) using her foot and hand and dropped it in.  Same gloves, she went back pulled the curtain open and started the IV.
When my patient was ready to leave and was to get a shot, the nurse explained that it will hurt for the day and gave him a shot in the arm that he needed to work with.  She said “I hope you’re not right handed, I should have asked”. She giggled and walked away.
These may not be life threatening conditions.  This may even sound minor, silly or not worth discussing, but it only takes a small amount of germs to cause an infection.  It only takes a small amount of carelessness to start bigger problems and it takes one person to set an example for others.  When one, two or three people in an emergency department let their guard down, we are in for bigger problems.  I'm not sure that the people who are in the corporate offices, make the policies, write the checks and go to the patient safety conferences even know how to start watching for this breach of conduct.   I’m not sure I would feel safe there, and now I don’t know where I would go.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kate Middleton's Privacy

Royal Privacy

King Edward VII's Hospital
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge becomes pregnant.  The complications from her pregnancy land her in King Edward VII Hospital in London where she is suffering from severe morning sickness.   DJ’s  Mel Greig and Michael Christian from an Australian radio show call the hospital pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.  They ask the nurse who answers the phone, as a prank for the radio station, if they can speak to Kate. A nurse, Jacintha Saldanha patches them through.
Another nurse, who has not yet been identified picks up the call and offers information about Kate’s condition.  Not realizing this is a prank, this nurse tells the DJ’s detailed information about Kate Middleton’s condition, on tape for all the listeners to hear.
Three days later, after most of the world heard the phone call on the news, Jacintha Saldanha, a nurse at that hospital for four years, and the mother of two teens is found dead from an apparent suicide.
Could this have happened here, in the United States?  Aren’t we “protected” by HIPAA so this information would / should never get out?  What did this nurse who answered the phone, or the nurse who gave out the information but didn’t kill herself actually do wrong?
The hospital policy, as one article wrote “forbids employees to patch phone calls through to the ward”.  This is the only place Saldanha committed any wrong doing.  The nurse, who gave out the information to the DJ’s may have gone a bit overboard in the details, but there too committed no offense. 
The privacy we may expect as a patient in the hospital is our right to ask that information not be shared with family or friends. If that request is not made, there is no public policy in place that protects patients from having a family member get information from the doctor or nurse about our condition, were we the patient.  Healthcare workers usually do not freely give out personal information over the phone to callers to protect the patient’s privacy or because it can get to time consuming to share details with everyone who might call.  But, the HIPAA laws do not protect us from that conversation – although over and over again, medical professionals use HIPAA as the reason they won’t share information about a patient with family or friends.
The nurse who did give out the details may be reprimanded for not using better judgment and Saldanha may have broken the rule about passing on a phone call.  But the only tragedy here is that a woman (that I know nothing else about) took her own life instead of apologizing and now her children don’t have their mother.
I hope that this will be used as an opportunity for people to decide now who you want to have your information were you to be hospitalized.  Who will be your advocate or support person and have that conversation with them about your expectations were you to be suddenly incapacitated.   Were Kate Middleton to have a patient advocate at her bedside, or helping her husband, Prince William know their rights to privacy, there is always a chance the outcome may have been very different.
Registration is now open for Long Island Family Centered Patient Advocacy Training, Registration
See the following links for more information about HIPAA:
LI Patient Safety Advisory Council Information
HIPAA: Everything You Want to Know about Patient Privacy but Are Afraid to Ask! US Department Health and Human Services For Consumers HIPAA Video 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

PPAI 2nd Annual Conference

Professional Patient Advocate Institute

I just spent two days in Orlando at the second annual Professional Patient Advocate InstituteConference.  Day one consisted of a certificate program.  The training covered legal issues, hospital visits, billing and reimbursements, direct services, a business plan, marketing and family support.
You wouldn’t go to court without a lawyer someone said, so why enter the healthcare system without an advocate?
According to the PPAI, some facts to justify the need for a patient advocate; 52 million caregivers provide care to adults ages 18 and up with a disability or illness.   26% of employed adult children take care of a family member and the annual loss to American businesses due to caring for aging parents is $3 trillion.
Presently we are in the early stages of professional patient advocacy services.  This service is not regulated so we are in a unique position to begin preparing for what an advocate needs to do and how they could / should be helping a patient.  Whether it is billing or reimbursement, medication management or doctors visits, at the bedside in the hospital or understanding a care plan, patient advocates can play an important role in the future of healthcare. 
Many nurses are becoming advocates because the time spent at the bedside in nursing is diminishing and nursing no longer allows enough time for patient interaction.
The cost for an advocate can vary from a very high daily rate or a retainer to an hourly rate decided by predicting the needed services.
Another way to encourage advocacy is the way PULSE of NY teaches the family and friend of the patient.  This community based teaching is called Family Centered Patient Advocacy Services.  It focuses on the families need to participate.  This way, there is no charge and the people who know the patient best, want to help and be part of the support system are there for the patient with the needed tools learned at one of the half day workshops.
Day two at the conference focused on guest presenters starting with Trisha Torrey as the keynote.  Trisha started Every Patients Advocate a number of years ago following her own unfortunate experience using the healthcare system. 
Lisa Freeman, the PULSE ofNY contest winner attended her first contest with the professional scholarship of $500.00.  Lisa took a Family CenteredPatient Advocacy Training on February 7, 2012 which made her eligible to apply for the scholarship.
Consider becoming a family centered patient advocate and learn about patient safety.  The charge to take this program is minimal and the lessons will last a lifetime.
Register here for the January 12, 2013 training.  Family Centered Patient Advocate Training Registration.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hospital Ratings

Leapfrog Group Hospital Ratings

A recent report from the Leapfrog Group has rated hospitals across the country. The Leapfrog Group is an independent, national not-for-profit organization of employer purchasers of health care. The Leapfrog Group is a voluntary program aimed at mobilizing employer purchasing power to alert America’s health industry about health care safety, quality and customer value.
An A, B, C, D, or F score assigned to a hospital based on expert analysis of infections, injuries, and medical and medication errors that cause harm or death during a hospital stay—looked closely at how safe hospitals are for patients.
Locally, on Long Island, 5 hospitals scored an A and now have bragging rights to being the “safest” hospitals on Long Island, in New York and maybe in the country. 
One of these hospitals was reported by another group last spring as one of the worst hospitals in patient safety while at the same time winning an award for Excellence in Patient Safety from yet another group.
The CEO of a Midwestern hospital that scored low expressed reservations about how the Leapfrog Group compiles and validates the data it uses to compile scores.
A well known California hospital disputes their F score because they say one patient death in 2010 unfairly lowered its grade from a C to an F.
The senior vice president for a 101-year-old hospital, says he "patently disagrees" with his hospital's F grade, saying that's not reflected in current federally reported data.  "Much of what Leapfrog is using is three or four years old," he says, "and is based on some proprietary methodology, capriciously assigning adverse grades to someone."
Hospitals across the country scoring an A have a very different outlook. They boast to their commitment to patient’s safety, quality care and committed staff.
Years ago I went to a meeting and on the plane I read a magazine listing top hospitals.  I didn’t see a hospital that I knew was always winning awards.  When I saw a top administrator from this hospital, I mentioned that his hospital wasn’t listed.  He grabbed the magazine from my hands and sat in a corner reading it.  Upon his return just minutes later, he shared that this magazine is trash and their scoring doesn’t mean a thing.
Using these rating tools, whether it’s about your local hospital or physician, patient safety and quality care is a two way street and by being vigilant as patients or family members we can help control the outcomes.  Going into a hospital with an F rating might even keep you on guard and with good reason.  Ratings are a tool.  I know of too many people who were injured or died in “the best” hospitals.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's the Plan?

Getting the Plan

He is a very, very large man.  He is not warm and fuzzy but instead outspoken and assertive.  He is disabled with the loss of one leg following a horrible accident almost ten years ago.

He was found in his home, during Hurricane Sandy in water neck high when his electronic wheelchair stopped working.  He yelled for his girlfriend to get to higher ground with their dog.  He waited there until he was rescued.  His rescuers brought him to a local hospital.  His girlfriend is still in a shelter with no place to go waiting for some help and direction.  Their beloved dog has been left to be cared for by others.
He met me, on this visit, in the lobby of the hospital in a new loaned electric wheelchair that he used to scoot around the hospital lobby.  While sitting and talking with him, he shared that his “good leg” was in a lot of pain but he wasn’t getting his pain medication.  When I looked down, I waited for him to remove his sock but soon realized it wasn’t a sock at all but his leg was turning dark purple or even black.
“What have they done for this” I asked him.  “Nothing” he told me.  He said he told someone about it two days ago but still no one has done anything about it.  I brought him in his wheelchair to the nurse’s station and asked for someone in charge.  The nurse told me she was in charge and would call the doctor to meet us in his room.
I asked the man who came in if he was the attending.  He told me he was a resident.  “What year” I asked.  “First year” he said.
I asked him to look at the patient’s leg and let him know what will be done about it. As the first year resident put his hand out to touch the elevated leg, I stopped him and said “please wash your hands before touching him”.  He complied and then took gloves and looked at the leg.  He said he didn’t know what the problem was.  I insisted he find out.  “Is there anyone who would know?  A vascular doctor, the attending, someone has to know before I leave what the plan is to treat this?”   The young man avoided eye contact with me but kept looking at the leg.  When the silence went on too long I asked him, “If this was your father, brother or child, would this be ok?”  I kept reminding him we need a plan of care but the resident tried to talk about the patients discharge and going to rehab.  He said this is where they would be able to treat this better.
I would not let him change the subject and told the resident that we are not discussing rehab right now, there is a problem right now that needs addressing and I can’t leave until I and the patient know the plan.
The resident said he would find someone with an answer and left.
He returned a few minutes later and explained that his leg needs to be elevated. “Now that’s a plan” I said.  I asked the patient if he understands that and asked what he will do?  “I can’t keep it up 24/7” he said.  The conversation was now between the doctor and patient.  The dark color was already fading.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Improve Diagnosis in Medicine.

Diagnostic Errors in Medicine; We’re talking about it now!

We now have something else to talk to patients about when it comes to medical errors.  Diagnostic errors.
I had the privilege this week to speak at Diagnostic Errors in Medicine (DEM) Conference at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.  There was a new group launched called Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine.  Their mission; We envision a world where diagnosis is accurate, timely, and efficient.
I took this from their website; “Diagnostic error, defined as wrong, missed or delayed medical diagnosis, occurs in 10-15% of cases, leading to immeasurable harm and billions in inappropriate medical costs. These errors are also the largest contributor to total medical malpractice payments”
So what can we learn from this?  The conference leaders brought in many different speakers who have experienced diagnostic errors as well as medical professionals willing to talk about them.  We learned from the patient’s perspective that the doctor isn’t always right.  For hundreds of years we have been asking the doctor what’s wrong and we expect the answer and the treatment to make us well again.  We are now learning (I have known this but now the docs have let the information out) that we should probably be asking the doctors his / her advise and then we make a sound judgment , after gathering all the facts on what needs to be done.  
I spoke about communication and how body language plays a big role in our sharing, or not sharing of information.  If we don’t feel comfortable sharing, we may forget to tell the doctor something to help with the diagnosis.  Do we understand the explanation about our treatment?  Maybe not.  It is not low literacy as someone insisted to me. It is poor communication, usually on the clinician’s part.
One researcher insisted that she can tell who patients are with low literacy because of how they struggle to put sentences together.  I suggested that many people with low literacy have a very sophisticated vocabulary and have used that as a tool to cover their lack of reading skills.
Many people have heard about a misdiagnosis.  It can be a stomach ache that was actually an enlarged appendix that burst, or a deadly ectopic pregnancy where the doctor tells the patient to take an antacid.  A patient who has a misdiagnosis that a painful infection is a rash or being told that there is (or isn’t) cancer when the tests, which went unread, or were misplaced were the basis for lack of communication.
Rory Staunton’s dad was there talking about his son’s misdiagnosis of an infection.  Rory was in deep pain following a scratch at gym during school.  At  a New York hospital they didn’t wait for the lab results to come back showing he was compromised and soon after Rory died from an undiagnosed infection that got into his blood stream.
It’s easy after the fact to say what the family should have done but we, the patient don’t always know that doctors make mistakes.  It’s up to each one of us to now know that.
The following morning after Mr. Straunton spoke about his son, he sat with me at breakfast and told me some of his real feelings that he has as a dad.  He used the words that I remembered using so well when my own son died years ago.  It wasn’t only that his son died that is so painful but Rory died because his parents trusted the doctors to care for their child.  That trust makes it much more painful.  Ciaran Staunton shared stories about how wonderful his son was.  How smart he was and caring he was about others.  Rory, like many advocates can change the world.  Sadly, he just won’t be here to see it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Assessing the Pain

Pain Meds for You
I walked into the patient’s room and his adult children stood around his bed concerned about his pain after surgery.  He was still in a lot of pain days later, but told us he didn’t know what the nurses thought was a lot of pain when they asked him how he was feeling.  He just kept saying he was OK figuring that’s what they wanted to hear.
I asked the nurse about him getting medication.  I knew she was busy with other things but thought it was important that she knew he was not wanting to complain but was still hurting.  The nurse agreed and went about her work.  I waited a reasonable amount of time and when she didn’t come, I went back to her desk.  She was still at her desk doing paperwork.  I now asked her “when you assessed his pain on a scale of zero to ten, what number did he give you?”  The nurse looked at her papers, looked at me and jumped to her feet.  Obviously realizing that she, nor anyone else had properly or appropriately assessed his pain, within 3 minutes she was in his room asking about his pain and distributing his pain medication.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Should We Close Down a Hospital?

Close Down a Hospital For Unsafe Care; Is that the Answer?
I spoke at a large group of about 100 retired professionals this week. The topic was Patient Safety and I covered the usual falls, infections, literacy, surgery and medication safety. We touched on advanced directives, generic brand medications and communication. Following the presentation I was met with a flurry of compliments from people about how informative it was.
A woman came up to me and asked privately “how do we have a hospital closed down?” I asked her why, and she said it was a terrible hospital. She wasn’t giving me specifics but pressured her to think about her comment, “why would you want a hospital to close and not improve?”
I finally got her to tell me that they released someone from the hospital who was not ready to leave. Her anger and frustration was apparent and I suggested that we can meet with the hospital administration to share what she witnessed. 
It isn't unusual that in the helplessness of caring for someone we love and feeling that we are not being heard, a family member gets angry at the situation and takes it out on the entire establishment that they trusted. 
I have learned to recognize that when someone is treated poorly or there is an injury or death of a patient, their loved one's want to punish the place that caused them grief.  They don't see that in the next house there is a family who survived the care, and may be alive today because of that facility.  So, as a society, how do we improve on the "little" things that may have been an injury or caused a death to a patient before it becomes a tragedy?
If that women never acted on what she witnessed by reaching out to the hospital, and I can't because we haven't met to talk more about it, then there is a tragedy waiting to happen that can cost the life of a patient.  Closing the hospital may not be the answer but starting a conversation with that hospital might very well save a life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Patient Safety or Mystery Shopper?

Patient Safety Observer

I have been called a “mystery shopper” of hospitals. I don't think that's what I do.   I like to be called in to the hospital to visit a patient by the family or the patient themselves.  I usually get the call because the patient doesn't know who is in charge of their care, aren't getting their needs met or feel that the care they are receiving is substandard.   That call gives me a reason to go into the hospital and see some of the problems that may cause unsafe care to a patient.  I don’t make the trip if it can be handled over the phone, but sometimes I just can’t get someone in administration to help and the bedside staff are just too busy.  In that case, I will go to the hospital.
When walking through the halls I will observe things like a cluttered hallway, overflowing garbage pails and empty hand sanitizer holders.  I will see if medication carts are unattended and listen for staff who are loud and un-attentive.  I will even look to see if there are any patient safety brochures or posters.  If you have read past posts you know that I will watch how the cleaning crew washes the bathrooms and if they touch items in the room with soiled gloves.
I don’t do this to get people in trouble.  Goodness knows the staff work hard, but if there is a discomfort to me about being in this facility, someone, with the power to make changes needs to know about it. 
The problem is the response I get when I write.  Some places answer immediately and ask for help and input.  Some leave the impression that I was seeing things and many others (most) hospitals don’t respond at all.
The letter sent out explains that it is for informational purposes only.  There is no official report going out to any of the places we are to file a complaint like the Department of Health or The Joint Commission or the news .  I am not looking for a pretty atmosphere but I do look at patient’s safety. Accessible   information, courtesy and comfort will bring a patient back in the future.  Early intervention is also safety.  A patient who feels chest pains but won’t go back to the hospital because it was dirty, they felt the people were rude or they didn’t feel welcome is, in fact a patient safety problem and should be addressed.
Personally, I don’t need to know how things are changed, or even if they are.  I’m pretty confident I will be back again to see for myself.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I jokingly asked my friend at her birthday party if she was able to drive home.  She looked at me with her droopy eyes and sleepy smile and said “sure, but you can drive if you want”.  Together, we had already planned that I was her designated driver and prearranged for a mutual friend to drive her car home.  At the time we made these plans, she was not drinking and she was thinking straight.  I have no doubt that if the plans were not previously made she wouldn’t want to “bother” me and may have insisted on driving.

A few days later I visited someone on pain killers for a shoulder injury.  His wife commented on how medicated he was and how he was not thinking straight.  I wondered how he might be when the time was to stop taking the pain pills.  Would he even bother stopping?  It was a chronic condition he had, after all.

I thought it would be a good idea if before he went on the pain medication, he and his wife made a decision that not unlike a designated driver, she would start to have some control over his pain medication or planning the pain management.  If the pain pills are working, and he feels in control, even if he isn’t, it is understandable why someone wouldn’t want to take the chance of being in pain all over again, unless of course there is a Designated Medication Manager in the home. 

The conversation may not be pleasant but at least it will not be a surprise when the DMM starts the conversation about getting off or reducing the amount of the pain killers a patient is taking . 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nothing By Mouth

Health Literacy 101

When I went to see the patient before her surgery she said "Don't get too close, I haven't brushed my teath."  I asked her why and she said "Because they said nothing by mouth".

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Working Together for the Sake of the Patient

Homeless Not Helpless
The call came in that a patient who is hospitalized was getting discharged too soon.  He was still very weak, unable to walk and had no place to go.  His Medicaid payments, the caller explained was about to run out and he had no family to help him.  The caller was contacted by a family member of the patient.  Not knowing how to help, the caller called PULSE of NY.

My first reaction was ‘How could they?’  But I know, after all these years that there are always two sides to hear. In this case it will be three.  When I called the patient, I found out his family wasn’t supportive, he didn’t know which doctor was in charge since there were numerous problems and he was homeless.  Hospitalized for many weeks, with many problems, he couldn’t focus on what the professionals were telling him. 
I decided to pay a visit and invited the nurse into the patient’s room to talk in front of him about his concerns.  I noticed there was no nurses name on the patient’s white board and was careful to say to the nurse’s aide, “there is no name, can you tell me who the nurse is?”  I then asked the nurse to call the social worker in to see us.  The social worker tried to get us to leave the patient’s room (the patient had an infection and we were “gowned up”) but I suggested that we stay and talk in front of him.
He was homeless but the hospital would pay his cab fare the social worker said, to get him to a friend, family or a shelter.  He hadn’t yet called all his friends who might help as he led me to believe and if he needs rehab, the social worker explained that there are shelters now set up to take homeless people who need special services.
The patient, obviously in need of company and companionship was hesitant to let me go but I was confident that there was a system in place to care for him and the hospital staff knows about it and is willing to help.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Put Ice ON it

I Don't Get It
So I get my shot and I ask the doctor about any side effects.  She tells me it may swell and get red but ice and Motrin will help.  It is a bit uncomfortable so I begin sucking on ice cubes and tape a Motrin pill to the area that has swelled.  Just kidding!!!!!
But it’s really not a joke.  Many, many patients don’t get the doctor’s information correctly.  The way this was explained to me may have been confusing to someone who doesn’t know what to do with their directions, can’t read well or speak another language.  In all of our lives we often assume people know what we know.  That comes from using words that aren’t used by everyone or not encouraging someone to reflect back instructions or information.
As a patients advocate we need to be sure we are hearing exactly what the doctor or nurse is telling the patient to do.  Think of ways the information can be jumbled and assume the patient isn’t hearing it because it can get jumbled or they are distracted. 
If I were with an advocate when my doctor gave me instructions to just use ice and Motrin for pain, what are some of the things you could have said to help?
Doctor, can you explain exactly how much ice and how much Motrin?  Can you explain further what to do with the ice and Motrin?
Doctor, how long should we use ice and Motrin or is there another medication we can use?
Ask the patient to explain what she will do.  “Ilene, what will you do with the ice and Motrin?” The response should be in front of the doctor so when I say I will suck on the ice, the doctor knows additional explanation is needed.
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One and Only

Safe Injections

I went to get a vaccination today and as the woman came into the room with a needle, wrapped in cellophane and a vial in her other hand,  I asked her, will you be reusing a syringe or the vial?
“This?” she asked as she held up a small glass container that looked about the size of a thimble.  “There is only one dose in here”.  She told me that some medications have more than one dose but in this case,  it is a single dose and then will be thrown out.  She asked me why I was asking.
Disposable Needle and Syringe
 “I just attended a program on safe injection and learned about one needle and one syringe.”  I told her I was curious if she ever heard of that.  She hadn’t, but showed me the whole needle and syringe gets thrown out after it’s used. She displayed the packaging  that she just opened to retrieve a new, unused needle and syringe.   I was grateful for this real time discussion on safe injections.  I could now say I practice what I preach.
I asked if she knew of others who may reuse the syringe or is it pretty standard to use disposables.  She said she didn’t know what others do but was confident that in this doctor's practice only disposable needles and syringes are used.  I felt reassured and just before she walked out the door she said “not only is it unsafe, but to not throw them away is gross”. And she was gone.  I barely felt her giving me the shot.
To learn more about the Safe Injection Campaign, read about it here:  One and Only

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NPSF and Patient Safety

Patient Safety from the Top
Next week I will be at the board meeting for the National PatientSafety Foundation.  From there, the NPSF Congress which is a yearly event that attracts patient safety leadership from all throughout the country, and very often other countries.  The NPSF was the first group of almost all medical professionals and hospital administrators who thought the patient’s voice was important to patient’s safety - but also gave us a voice.

About eight survivors of bad medical outcomes like myself gathered in 1999 at an early conference of about 200 people.  They were mostly risk managers and others representing the medical field.  I heard first hand from doctors and hospital administrators who also experienced the loss of family and colleagues at the hands of medical professionals.  Many who were overworked, distracted, didn’t have the right tools or information to do the best for their patients.
I remember learning how it is the system that is at fault, usually not an individual and how systems in healthcare are not built to avoid injury.  Healthcare is often compared to the airline industry and if we looked at the airline industry we could improve. 
For one thing, it doesn’t matter what airline you use, Delta, United, Jet Blue, the safety policy, going into the plane is the same.  We are screened the same and we remove our shoes, belts and laptops.  If there is a problem at Delta, every airline changes policy and learn from the incident.  In hospitals, in most cases the problems are handled internally and repaired.  Flyers are shown safety video’s or are asked to read the safety handout before flying. In hospitals we are lucky to find safety literature in our admission packets when we get home from surgery.

The airlines interview the passengers.  Hospitals have been known to close the doors when patients have questions after a bad outcome.  The pilot dies if there is a crash, doctors don’t.

Since 1996, even before I went to my first patient safety conference I have been teaching the public about patient safety.  What we, as the patient need to know to participate in our care to stay safe.  In the past 15 years much has happened in healthcare and the patient and their families voice is being heard louder and more clearly.  We have a unique opportunity to continue growing on the popularity of patient’s voices.

To learn more about patient safety and how you can be involved vist or call (516) -579-4711

Friday, May 11, 2012

Patient Discharge - What Did You Say?

Speaking Up for the Advocate
I was invited to be at the hospital before the patient went for surgery and was confident I would have time to stay following her surgery.  I knew her husband would be there so it was important that I didn’t try to “replace” him.
My role is to be sure he has his voice as the husband and primary caretaker for the patient when she comes home the same day she has surgery – probably too soon.  When I got there I saw that her body was marked, she had a warm blanket, she was getting antibiotics and they had the patient’s list of allergies and medications.  Everything seemed to be going fine.
I left with the husband, he went to have lunch.  I came back in a couple of hours.  The surgery was successful he told me and his wife was sleeping.  He got to see her following the surgery.  He had no questions.  I thought we waited long enough.  I suggested we go see her and we were greeted by the nurse while the patient  was groggy  in the hospital bed slowly coming to.
“I went over all the discharge information with the patient” the nurse told us.  I asked the husband if he knows the plan.  He shook his head.  “Since the patient slept through your instructions, I suggest you now tell her husband” I told the nurse.  She wasn’t happy but explained the plans to both of us.  It’s no wonder there are so many problems at discharge!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rapid Response Teams

The Rapid Response Team

While sitting in the waiting room at a hospital waiting for the patient to come out of surgery, I heard over the loud speaker, “Rapid Response Team to 2 west, Rapid Response Team to 2 west, Rapid Response Team to 2 west”.  The words broke the otherwise silence of family waiting patiently reading or texting.
They were unaware of the importance of the words they just heard.  The excitement ran through my body because in the middle of a sunny afternoon, hospital staff were acting on a fairly recent system to save patients who might otherwise die.
The Rapid Response Team, also known as the Medical Emergency Team is in place at many hospitals to be called by patient, family or staff when a patient is in need of fast intervention.  Unexpected cardiac arrests in hospitals are usually preceded by signs of instability (1) and these patients are often cared for by junior staff. (2)
Following the Australian model the Rapid Response Team or RRT brings ICU level care to the patient’s bedside using interdisciplinary teams.(3)
Although there is still some controversy such as would this method be abused or are highly trained physicians being taken away from one patient to care for another(3), those of us know the importance of the RRT also know that we would rather be in a hospital that uses them, than not.
Look for the signs on the wall of your hospital and see if there is a RRT in place.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Health Literacy at it's Worst!

The High Cost of Health Literacy

I have been following the story of John Gonzalez, a 70 year old man from Long Island who spent six months in jail after killing his elderly mother.  He was let out with time served and will have five years probation.  The reason he was let go is because the judge and everyone on the case felt bad for him because he was diagnosed with cancer and thought he would soon die.  He was the only person who could care for his mother and out of desperation, took her life and tried to take his own.  The Newsday article by Andrew Smith reads in part; He suffered from diabetes, joint pain and other maladies. Then, when he got a letter from his doctor informing him that a spot on his hand was skin cancer, his poor English led him to believe he was going to die soon and no one would care for his mother, Brown said.
I can only imagine how many other times Mr. Gonzalez has used the healthcare system and didn’t understand the diagnosis and treatment.  The article also reads:  After she died, he tried to kill himself by taking all the insulin he had and slashing his wrists. He was unconscious for four days and, as a result of the insulin overdose, he wrecked his kidneys and now needs dialysis at least three times a week.
So now, not only is a woman dead, but Mr. Gonzalez will be getting medical treatments that will cost the economy plenty – just because he didn’t know where to go for proper information or an interpreter who could help him understand.
More to come – You can count on it!

Monday, April 2, 2012

C. diff

Washing Hands Can Make a Difference

Wash your hands before eating takes a whole new turn after reading this article in LI Newsday.
A recent article in Long Island’s Newsday by Delthia Ricks explains in detail the problems with the bacterial infection Clostridiumdifficile, also known as C. diff.  This bacterial infection, known to cause severe pain, diarrhea and high fever is a serious problem in hospitals throughout the country.   In 2009 there were 337,000 cases Ricks reports in the article, more than doubling the number from the less than ten years earlier.
The spores can live for months and can be spread if not killed with bleach in a room where the spores might be living in a patient’s room.  To clean hands from the spores soap and water must be used.  The hand sanitizers won’t do it.
So how does this change what we already know?  As a patient safety educator I will let people know that soap and water must be used when someone enters the room to treat a patient.   If you feel uncomfortable asking someone to wash their hands, carry this article with you and tape it to the patient’s wall. 
When a family member or friend visit – leave the flowers home and bring a container of Clorox wipes.  Grab some gloves and wipe down the room.  The tray table, bed rails, door and door knob, TV remote, call bell and sink.

Wash your own hands repeatedly with soap and water and if you touch anything wash again.  Your hands may be clean when you come in but anything you touch can be contaminated which will start the process of contamination over again.
A recent discussion at a group training caused an outburst by a woman when I suggested that unless hands are noticeably soiled, antibacterial lotion can be used.  She was upset by this comment because her mother suffered from C. diff.  Her knowledge on the subject made me and my colleague Jeff, who has been offering these programs with me, to rethink how we discuss infection prevention.  If C. diff is as big a problem as it is said to be then we have a right to insist on soap and water.

NY State information on C.diff
Pamphlet on C.Diff

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Patient Advocate

The Many Roles of a Patient Advocate

A patient advocate isn’t always someone who sits at the patient’s bedside and in many cases watches them sleep, or someone who helps with bill payment, insurance coverage or medical chart explanations.  A patient advocate can wear many different hats and, if patient advocacy is something you want to do, I suggest you think about the best way you can help.
I received a phone call this week from a social worker who received a call from one of her clients who was hospitalized.  The client didn’t want to have a procedure the hospital wanted the patient to have.  If the patient didn’t get the shock treatment, the patient would be institutionalized the hospital staff told the patient.  This is something the patient feared.
The social worker called PULSE of NY to find out how to find a patient advocate within the hospital to help her client.  I explained that if there is one, just call the switchboard and ask to speak to the patient representative or patient’s advocate and she would be connected.  If there isn’t one, she will get connected to the person doing that work, which may be in the quality department or nursing department.
The social worker said she couldn’t find the contact information on the website; something I have found frustrating for years.  The social worker didn’t want to get too involved because she understood the HIPAA laws.  (HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA!!)
I went on to explain that she can play an important role right over the phone and HIPAA had nothing to do with it.  Here’s what I explained she should do:
Get the patient advocate / representative from the hospital involved.  Ask NO questions about the patient.  Just explain who you are and that you are encouraging further conversation between someone in the hospital and the patient.  Immediately after contacting the patient representative the social worker should call the patient and let the patient know that contact has been made.  Have the patient contact the social worker while the patient and the advocate / nurse or doctor are in the room.  The patient can hand the phone to them and ask the hospital staff to explain to the social worker what is happening or put the call on speaker – no HIPAA violation if the patient does it.
Now, the social worker and the patient can have a conversation and together decide what is best for the patient.  The social worker, acting as an advocate can help build that bridge for better communication.  The additional time spent with the social worker, in many cases is a welcome relief to hospital staff if they are not making headway with a patient.
Now at least they will feel they are getting actual informed consent or, if the patient still refuses treatment, they know they did everything possible.
There are two sides to every story.  The social worker is only hearing what the patient wants to tell her.  There may be alternatives the patient didn’t hear or the patient may be acting out.  Whatever it is, the patient needs a trusted, neutral, supportive and calming voice to help the team get through this.  In many cases patient may not have family to help them through a hospitalization but that doesn’t mean there is no support.  With phones available in every room or patients with cell phones, friends, families and even patient advocates can be helpful from miles away.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Patient and Family Advisory Council

Patient Safety Awareness Week

As a decade of Patient Safety Awareness Week celebrations come to a close, it’s a reminder of what we are actually celebrating.  I spoke yesterday at a major metropolitan hospital about the patient’s role in patient safety and we I had an opportunity to meet with their patient and family advisory council’s patient safety committee.  Years ago it would not be “safe” to have a community member (who is not on the hospital board of trustees) know that there are errors made in the hospital.  Now, it would be unsafe to not have a patient or their family member there, in the trenches, to look, listen and share what is happening.
The participants of this focus group shared their work and even some of their own unplanned outcomes and disappointments in their care.  But, what they all had in common is the utmost respect for the facility as well as the people who run it.
How could it not be wonderful for senior administrators to have volunteers who are available to be the eyes and ears of the hospital from the ground up.  As a bedside advocate with over 600 hours bedside time, this is really where we can see how errors happen.  I remember seeing a nurse stop preparing medication because I asked for a pitcher of water.  I have seen how the medicine cart, supposed to be at the patient’s bedside doesn’t fit through the door.  I have seen a nurse have a conversation with the wrong patient and a family member correct the chart – no, the surgery will be on the left side, not the right side.
To report these as “near misses” becomes tedious and there is paper work, but patients or community members understanding where things can go wrong can also be a set of eyes and ears to help improve the system.
We've come a long way baby!

Monday, March 5, 2012

What's in a Word?

A 17 year old who is living with me was desperately in need of a tonsillectomy. I made the choice to go through it with him even though my child bled to death, for 8 days following his tonsillectomy a number of years ago. Repeated trips to the emergency rooms were halted with the doctors saying "don't worry". Years later, I realized it is my job, as a parent, to worry and those words, used by a healthcare professional are worse than fingernails on a chalk board............... now what?

The surgeon answered all of our very suspicious questions about his history of tonsillectomies very eloquently until I asked the young man to leave the room and shared my own personal experience with the doctor. He looked me in the eye and said "I understand your concern".

Imagine my shock when the child I am caring for, on day five, began spitting up dark red blood. When I reached the surgeon by phone, he again said "I understand your concern" and again said it after he treated him at the hospital. Not until about 2 days later did I realize this physician has never used the term "don't worry".

I thought it important to share this and let people know how important words can be when there is an emotionally charged situation. 

The words "don't worry" can be seen as an order - or being told what to do (or not do). They leave no room for dialogue unless someone who is scared wants to put up a fight. Rarely will someone stop worrying because someone tells them to. They will, instead hold back their true feelings and concerns, maybe pleasing the medical professional who doesn't want to explain any more??

This surgeon was justifying my feelings. By recognizing he understood, I had no reason to pursue my concerns because he heard me.

I hope people in the medical field will throw out the words "don't worry" and try using, instead, "I understand your concern".

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Accredited and Complaints

Accredited Facilities

I was always pretty confident that I would recommend a Joint Commission accredited facility instead of one that is only inspected by the state.  Joint Commission standards are higher than the state and the state can easily say they are overworked and don’t have the budget to hire more people to check on problems.

As I visited a local healthcare organization recently which was not accredited by The Joint Commission, the differences started to unfold in front of me.  Although I am far from being an expert, the whole feel of cleanliness and care was very different than any place I ever visited.
Besides the fact that almost none of the staff say hello, greet the patient or visitors with anything but a “did you call?” or even smile when I smile at them, they seem unhappy having a job and particularly working in this facility.
I went to the nurse’s station and asked a woman if she had an antibacterial wipe that I can use to wash a television remote that fell on the floor.  She handed me a container that was empty.  I showed her it was empty and asked if she had antibacterial wipes.  These, I explained do not say they kill germs and are for hands, not objects.  She stared at me for a moment and handed me another container of the same product.
I can’t be sure that if this facility was accredited by the Joint Commission it would be any different, but when I started to see areas of concern, I thought about who the patient or their family would complain to.  The state has reported being low on funds.  What if they never got to my complaint?  Who would I complain to then?  The Department of Health is not going to go out of business, even if they are backed up for years.  Organizations like The Joint Commission are independent and would have to hire more people if the problem got out of hand.
I wouldn’t say that a facility not accredited by the Joint Commission is a better choice or not.  What I am concerned about is what if things aren’t going smoothly.  Who would you want on your side

Friday, February 3, 2012

Being Alone With a Healthcare Provider

Alone with the Doctor
I got a text message from my teenage son who is away at college and he tells me he is at the nurse with his female friend and the nurse told him to leave the room. Yes, the same son who asked a doctor to wash her hands and got an “annoyed attitude”.  As her advocate he expected to stay with her.
I reminded him that the nurse may have wanted to ask her about her sex life, drug use or sexually transmitted disease and was not going to ask, or expect an honest answer, in front of him. 
“She fell and hit her head, it has nothing to do with sexually transmitted diseases” he told me.  But, I explained to him, being pregnant might make a girl become dizzy or, was she actually being beaten or abused?
It was a good reminder that patients need time alone with their healthcare provider.  As advocates, we tend to want to be with the patient – always – but it doesn’t always make sense.
A few years ago I was at the bedside of a patient following her surgery when the nurse was asking standard questions; do you smoke, snore, are you safe at home………?
I later pulled the nurse aside and suggested that a question about a patient’s safety be asked privately.  “What if I were the one abusing her?” I asked the nurse.
Although we want to be with our loved one, it makes sense to leave a husband, wife, friend or other family member alone at some point to have these private discussions with their healthcare provider if they want.  One way to do this is to say ahead of time to the patient, “I don’t mind leaving you alone to talk privately with your doctor”.  If warned in advance, it can be done at any time during a visit.  A patient can always say “no, stay with me” but it gives them an opportunity to be alone and not offend you.