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Protecting Yourself from Hospital Complications

Protecting Yourself from Hospital Complications

People are born, mended, and consoled in hospitals, hopefully without incident and undue harm. Doing no harm is the ethical guiding principle of doctors, nurses and hospitals. It is what we, as patients and consumers of healthcare, hope for the moment we walk through the hospital door.

But not all hospitals are created equal and on occasion complications arise – in both good and inadequate medical facilities.

What Is a Hospital Complication?

A hospital complication is any condition that arises while you are in the hospital that is unlikely to be related to your condition when you were first admitted. Complications often prolong your stay or cause you to be readmitted to the hospital. One measure used as a marker to evaluate hospital effectiveness is to compare complication rates among hospitals side by side. In this way, you can determine if one hospital has more or less complications than another hospital for a specific procedure or surgery.  

Most hospitals have measures in place to track and evaluate complications - what the medical community refers to as adverse events. These measures are put in place to figure out why particular events happened and to do something to make things better for their patients’ sake.

Beginning in 2012 there will be another reason to pay attention to complications. The Federal Government’s new Affordable Care Act holds that Medicare benefits will be keenly linked with the quality of the services hospitals provide. This means that if an adverse event was deemed preventable, payment may be denied.

What Are Some Types of Hospital-Acquired Complications?

The complications you hear about on TV, such as wrong-side surgery or foreign objects left inside the body after surgery, while worrisome, are not very common. It is the more commonplace problems that occur that can also make the difference between life and death.   

Here are some adverse hospital events:

Complications from medication errors can cause kidney failure, allergic reactions, delirium, bleeding, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), breathing problems, and gastrointestinal complications.

Complications from patient care include aspiration of fluids into the lungs, blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis), falls, pressure sores (skin ulcers), trauma, problems urinating (urinary retention), intestinal blockage (ileus), blood pressure problems, and breathing problems.

Complications from a procedure or surgery include heart problems, excessive bleeding (hemorrhage), trauma, cuts, problems urinating (urinary retention), intestinal blockage (ileus), blood pressure problems, breathing problems, and gastrointestinal problems.

Complications from infection include bacterial infection of blood, skin, urine (urinary tract infection), and lungs (pneumonia, ventilator-associated pneumonia).

What Can You Do to Safeguard Your Hospital Stay?

As health consumers we want the best care possible. We want to choose the right healthcare provider and the right hospital so we can get back to the business of living as soon as possible. It is for this reason many consumers are now looking to see how the hospitals in their community rank in quality before they head through their doors to receive care.

In many cases, it’s not that hospitals don’t have measures in place to safeguard against complications, they are just not enforcing them well enough. In today’s hospitals doctors, nurses, and other staff members use many checklists to help avoid complications and errors. You may have even seen one posted the last time you were in the hospital for yourself or visiting a loved one.

Here are six tips you can follow to improve safety during your hospital stay:

1) Be Bold. If you actively participate in every decision throughout your care, you may be more likely to spot substandard care. Make sure you ask about every aspect of your treatment until you understand it clearly. And don’t be shy about asking why something is being done. Why are you elevating my head? What does that suctioning do? Record answers to your questions on a notepad, or ask someone to write down the information for you.

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