Friday, December 15, 2017

Medical Conferences

By Ilene Corina, Patient Safety Advocate
December 2017

Another medical conference on the topic of patient safety has just passed. There have been numerous conferences over the years, and I have attended many of them.  I usually leave inspired, excited and often overwhelmed by the upbeat and positive work being done in patient safety.

The usual program for such conferences has patient safety leaders talking about the wonderful work they are doing.  One or more patients, who may or may not be medical professionals, talk about the tragedy that brought them there that day. There will be presentations about the heartbreaking journeys of the family members of patients who died, patients who weren’t treated well, and many presentations offering insights for the healthcare professionals on how improvements can be made. Then there may be awards for the great work being done to save lives. 

While all this is happening, in a state far, far away, there is another side to this. A hospitalized patient is getting an incorrect diagnosis or the wrong medication, or is fighting a hospital-acquired infection. Have the healthcare professionals attending the conference remembered to tell their patient and those patients’ loved ones what they too should know about keeping safe?

I have said for years that patient safety should be seen as like wearing a seat belt. It is up to the driver (the medical team) to do the right thing, but if something goes wrong we (the patients) still should be wearing a seatbelt. Not because we are predicting something will go wrong, but because it might. Patients who know nothing about patient safety have no “seatbelt” are completely unprepared for the risks and unwanted outcomes.
These conferences need to be attended by representatives of business and industry — both management and rank-and-file employees — that is, the people who actually use the healthcare system. 

UPS has 434,000 employees
General Electric has more than 300,000 employees
Bank of America has 208,000 employees
Disney World has 62,000 employees
In 2006 a survey found that 14.5% of employees took Family Medical Leave in 2004. Of those, 35 percent took it more than once during the year. How many of these days off could have been avoided if there were fewer complications in healthcare?
Since between 200,000 and 400,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors, at a cost of as much as $19.5 billion[1], shouldn’t the corporate leaders of UPS, GE, Bank of America, Disney World and other major employers be sending their staff to patient safety conferences?
At what point does someone in healthcare say: “We’ve had enough training but it’s still not perfect. So now we must include patients, their families and their employers in this conversation.

Contact:  Ilene Corina (516) 579-4711 or

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Twenty Years of Choosing a Doctor

What a difference 20 years can make… well of course!

Twenty years ago I was speaking to the public at community meetings for older adults, civic organizations, religious communities and as I met people in the park, the train station and the malls.  I was asking them “what do you know about your doctor?” When they didn’t have an answer I would ask “what do you like about your doctor?”  I was asking this to people to introduce them to the need for physician profiles or a place to look up information about their doctor.  Not because they would be judging their doctor but so they can have some knowledge about this person they are hiring to make life or death decisions with them - or for them or for the person they love.

So, what has changed?  Twenty years later I still start my presentation about patient safety or patient centered care in the similar way and also ask the question: “who here likes their doctor?”  When the hands go up, I ask “Why?”  Twenty years ago people responded that the doctor was nice, had good office hours, took their insurance or they have been going to them for years.

The last few years I’ve noticed a shift.  Now I hear comments like; He explains things to me, I understand what he/she is saying and he/she spends time with me or he calls me back.  Even when in a high school, youth are interested in a doctor who talks to them and not their parent and when a doctor knows their name.

People are looking up information on their physician and using that as a guide to who they may use.  With so many specialists now it’s hard to know which clinician will be in charge of your care.  It looks like people are getting more sophisticated in deciding what they want and expect from their clinician.  So what is the point of asking if someone likes their doctor?  Because when I ask who doesn’t like their doctor and the hands go up, I remind them that the referrals are right there in the room.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Holiday Visit in the Hospital

Hospital Visit During the Holidays

It’s holiday time so what is the best thing you can bring to someone if you visit them in the hospital?  Candy canes!  Not for the patient, but for the nurses, nurse’s aides and doctors who care for them.  Don’t bring them to the nurse’s station so they can get mixed in with all the other candy, cookies and gifts and no one knows who it came from, leave it in the patient’s room.  This way, staff will be coming in to check on the patient, and grab a candy cane.

I have been suggesting this for years.  Those who have taken my patient advocacy training know this.  As a patient advocate we need to be sure we are building bridges for the patient and staff.  Recently I asked a doctor to wash his hands and when he suggested he already did (I did not see him do it) I offered him a Twizzler if he did.  He took the wrapped candy and washed.  It broke the tension and I got what I need for the patient. 

Chocolates are also popular when nurses come in to read the box cover to see what they will get, they spend extra time with the patient at their bedside and it makes for more pleasant small talk.  Many years ago, I left a bouquet of lollipops at the patient’s bedside and when I returned all the nurses were walking around with lollipops in their mouth.

An assortment is always best.  Chocolate and Twizzlers or lollipops.  Don’t forget to offer it to the patient in the next bed or their guests because there may be a parade of staff coming in and talking about the new treat.      If someone is diabetic, don’t pursue it.

Usually staff will be hesitant from taking the “patient’s candy” but insist it’s for them.  Encourage them to take one and tell the others it's there.  They will be back.  I guarantee it!  See what else Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy  recommends bringing to the hospital: The Patient Assistant / Advocate Guide