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It's natural to be at least a little bit nervous before going in for surgery. But if you're so laid back that you're updating your Facebook status just before going under the knife, you could overlooking important details. Those butterflies in your stomach are a good thing: They can help prevent mishaps before, during and after a medical procedure.
As a patient, it's important to be your own advocate. According to Katie O'Neill, Director of Clinical and Support Services for Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, "Partner with your medical providers, and you'll be safer."
Worst-case surgical errors include "wrong site" surgeries, where, for example, the wrong knee is operated on, or even the wrong patient. But there are other errors to look out for as well, such as when a nurse administers the wrong medications or a surgical team forgets to wash their hands. Start being your own patient advocate by following some of these simple tips:
- Carefully look at medical forms. The forms you're given before your surgery will confirm who you are, what surgery you will be undergoing, and ask for your consent to undergo the operation. Make sure you read the form carefully and that you understand everything. If you have questions, speak up. It's okay to expect clear answers when it comes to your health and well-being.
- Check and double-check your ID. When you enter the surgery facility, expect to be asked about your identity multiple times. Your medical providers should confirm your identity both verbally and on paper. It may seem unnecessary to confirm the same information multiple times. But it could prevent a crucial mistake, such as getting the wrong operation. Yikes!
- Be vigilant about hand washing. This goes for everyone. Your caregivers, the people visiting you, and yourself. "We have a program at Legacy Good Samaritan called 'It's okay to ask.' This applies to asking questions anytime you're under our care, or simply asking your caregiver to wash his hands before helping you," says O'Neill.
- Confirm medications. Bring a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you're taking to the hospital (or even the bottles themselves). Before you take anything at the hospital, make sure it's a medication you're familiar with. If it's new, talk to your medical provider about what it is, what it's for, and whether there are any side effects.
- Have the doctor mark the spot. This is especially important for surgeries that could occur on either side of the body (eyes, knees, kidneys). "If possible, be alert and involved when the site is being marked, so you can confirm the site with your doctor," says O'Neill. If you cannot be awake and alert for the marking, have someone you trust--like a family member or nurse--oversee the marking.
- Screen your visitors. If you're a patient and your loved ones have illnesses such head colds or the stomach flu, request that they refrain from visiting you. This protects you as well as hospital workers and other patients.
- Practice respiratory etiquette. Anyone in a medical facility (or other public place) should cover a cough with a tissue, sneeze into the crook of their arm, and always wash hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.
- Be thorough in reporting your medical history. If you need to, bring a written record of your medical history, including allergies, or ask for the forms in advance so you can check your records at home. One fast and easy way to do this is to create a Personal Health Record on MyRegence.com, print out what you need from it and pack it with other relevant information you're bringing for your hospital stay.
- If you're in pain, speak up. The sooner your medical providers know you're experiencing pain, the better. This is extremely important. Some types of pain may be normal before or after surgery, but your medical providers should always be apprised of your condition to make sure they're not missing anything.
Remember, you are your own best health advocate. Never be afraid to speak up. When it comes to something as serious as surgery, there is no such thing as a silly question.
About the Author
Nancy Levenson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. Her work has been published online at www.portlandor.about.com and www.citysearch.com and in magazines such as Cottage Living and Northwest Homes and Gardens. She is also a contributor to theBest Places guidebooks.