Prevent Medical Mistakes

5 Ways to Prevent Medical Mistakes
When Your Child Is in the Hospital

Medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the United States. Estimates range from 98,000 deaths a year (Institute of Medicine; 1999) to 400,000 deaths (Journal of Patient Safety; September 2013). But, we all need to go the hospital sometimes, and 3 million families bring a child to the hospital each year. Your Child in the Hospital: A Practical Guide for Parents by Nancy Keene suggests many simple ways that parents can help prevent medical mistakes.

  1. Only go to the hospital when necessary. For injuries or illnesses that aren’t life threatening, call your child’s pediatrician before going to the emergency room. Your child might get faster and less expensive treatment at the doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic.
  2. Check those labels. If a nurse breezes into the hospital room with an injection, pills, or an IV bag, look at the label to make sure it has your child’s name on it and is the right dose. A story in our book about a child with a compromised immune system shows how checking can prevent a tragic mistake.

    When my daughter was in the hospital one time, the nurse came in with two syringes. I asked what they were, and she said immunizations. I said that it must be a mistake, and the nurse said that the orders were in the chart. So I checked my daughter’s chart, and the orders were there, but they had another child’s name on them.

  3. Require thorough hand washing. Do not let any hospital worker touch your child until you have seen him or her thoroughly wash both hands. Hospitals are germy places and doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and many others go from room to room all day. So, politely stop anyone from touching your child or your child’s belongings (no hugging that teddy bear) until hand washing is complete.
  4. Stay away from that dangling tie. New guidelines suggest that doctors should not wear a swinging tie, long sleeved shirts, rings, watches, or lab coats because those items collect and spread germs. Parents can ask hospital staff members to wash that grimy stethoscope and tuck that tie away. (“Healthcare Personnel Attire in Non-Operating-Room Settings” Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, February 2014)
  5. Coach your children to speak up. Parents can teach their children to speak up whenever a parent isn’t at the bedside (after all, parents sometimes need to visit the restroom, take a shower, or go to the cafeteria).

    My two children, Sean and Angie, have had many hospitalizations for minor injuries (stitches and casts) and major procedures (benign tumor removed from chest, abdominal surgery). I have taught them to be pleasant but firm in their dealings with staff. They are good at saying, “Excuse me, but we need to wait until my mom gets here,” or “No, I don’t want that done now.” I have taught them that they are in charge of their own bodies. I’m proud to say that although they are never mean or threatening, they have learned to express themselves with clarity and firmness.