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In a Hospital and Concerned About Quality?

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Your mother is in the hospital. The nurse comes in to give her a drug. You ask what drug it is and it's something to which she's allergic a fact noted on the long list of things you had to provide at admission. The nurse apologizes profusely and gets a substitute drug for her. The next day about the same time, a different nurse comes in to give your mother a drug. Again, you ask and again it is the wrong drug.

As many of us know and experience, quality concerns and medical errors do happen when we're patients in hospitals or doctors' offices or residents of nursing homes. Often, mistakes are caught and corrected before they cause harm called a 'near miss' in the patient safety world. Other times, they aren't, resulting in discomfort, pain or other serious and tragic health consequences. According to an estimate from a prestigious research group ' the Institute of Medicine 44,000 to 98,000 of us die as a result of medical errors each year.

What should you do if you think there is a quality problem in a hospital? First talk with those caring for you and their supervisors to see if that resolves the problem. If not, there are hospital staff who are charged with addressing patient concerns. Most hospitals have a department or office that helps called "Patient Relations,""Patient Advocate" or "Ombudsman.''  If you're not satisfied, you should escalate your concern to others in the hospital, including the CEO.

If you're still not satisfied or if you want to protect others from what you think could be a harmful hospital, you can report your concern to outside agencies that oversee hospital quality such as the state department of health or The Joint Commission. In some cases, if the agency perceives there to be an emergency quality problem, they can be on-site evaluating the hospital very quickly. Other times, they move more slowly. And ultimately, the outside agency may not agree with the way you see the situation.

For more detailed information about what to do if you're in a California hospital (some of which applies nationwide), visit the 'What's New' section of the Informed Patient Institute.

More Blog Posts by Carol Cronin

author bio

Carol Cronin has more than 20 years of experience working on health care and aging issues, with a particular interest in consumer health information and Medicare. She is currently executive director of the Maryland-based non-profit organization the Informed Patient Institute (IPI), whose mission is to improve the quality of health care by helping the public make more informed decisions about their care.


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Comments on this post
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Star says
May 4, 2010 at 10:50 AM

I have contacted Patient Relations after every hospital encounter--myself or my mother (who is in my charge). Something terrible every time! I seem to always be commenting on these, so will shut up. But in my experience--the patient relations people don't do much. Nothing changes. They tell you they can't tell you what they did.