Hospital patient – a role we hope to avoid but it seems almost inevitable we’ll be one at least once over our lifetimes. It may be a simple procedure or a full blown trauma that sends us and the elders for whom we care to the hospital.
Hopefully it will be only a short stay and not for an extended period.
When we, or someone we love, are in the hospital, there are seemingly endless concerns we experience. We wonder if we are being treated accurately, quickly, safely and cleanly. We don’t want any of these things to lead to further illness, a longer hospital stay or a greater financial burden.
It’s ironic, but true, we are all worried about getting infections from the very place that is supposed to be making us better. Turns out our worry is too often well founded.
To protect ourselves – and especially our loved ones – there are steps we can take in an effort to prevent certain occurrences while in the hospital, including becoming a victim of hospital acquired infections (HAI).
Hospital Acquired Infections – What You Should Know
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that, on any given day in the nation’s acute care hospitals, there is a likelihood that 1 in 25 hospital patients will acquire an infection. In 2011 there were approximately 722,000 hospital acquired infections or HAIs and 25,000 of those who contracted an infection went on to die during their hospital stay.
Being a safe patient is important in order to protect our health. Hospital acquired infections are largely preventable.
Infections can begin when invasive medical devices or procedures are used, including catheters, IV’s, ventilators, or at surgery sites. There are numerous different types of bacteria and organisms that can be contracted in a healthcare setting including those that are antibiotic resistant.
The CDC has taken steps in monitoring and educating hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers about the dangers of infection. They are also educating us as patients.
Being a Safe Patient
The CDC encourages us to be informed, empowered and prepared whenever we or one of our loved ones become a patient, regardless of the health setting.
These are the actions they suggest we do to help prevent becoming a statistic and potentially a fatality.
- Speak up. Ask questions of the doctor and all of the healthcare team. How long is the catheter needed, when will it come out, is it necessary, how do they protect surgical sites, how do they prepare you for surgery, and any other question you have throughout the process. There is a Speak Up Initiative that has been educating patients, empowering them to make their needs know and questioning healthcare providers to reduce medical errors.
- Keep hands clean. Be sure everyone who provides care to you washes their hands before all contact. If they don’t, ask them to before they lay their hands on you or any of your medical devices.
- Ask about antibiotics. Will they need to be used, are they being used, and will there be testing done to be sure the correct one is being used.
- Know the signs of an infection and alert the medical providers if you suspect you are developing an infection.
- Be alert for dangerous, deadly diarrhea. Let your doctor know if you have three or more diarrhea episodes in 24 hours, especially if you have been taking an antibiotic.
- Protect yourself by getting your recommended vaccines to prevent illness.
Protecting Loved Ones’ Health – Caregivers’ Strategies
There are more actions you can take, in addition to the guidelines above, to be sure that you and your older loved ones are protecting yourselves while a patient in the hospital or other healthcare settings, including at home.
- Medication Safety – avoid adverse drug events. Keep a current list of your senior’s medications and update whenever changes are made. Follow the directions on the labels including all precautions, storage instructions, dosing instructions and expiration dates. Use over-the-counter medications sparingly and follow all manufacturer’s instructions. If you require blood tests while taking certain medications, get those tests done as scheduled. Keep all medications out of the reach of children and locked up if needed.
- Hand Washing – learn how to correctly wash your hands and your senior loved one’s hands in order to be sure that you will be fighting the spread of germs and bacteria which could lead to illness. The steps are: wet hands, apply soap, rub hands at the palms and between fingers and at cuticles, rinse with water, dry hands with single use towel, and finally turn off faucet with paper towel. The entire process should take 40-60 seconds. Wash hands when soiled, before and after meal preparation, after toileting, after touching face or nose, after coughing or sneezing and other times as needed.
- Needles – if your senior requires needles for medications or other reasons, be sure to dispose of the needles properly and safely in a sharps container. Dispose of the sharps container before it is 2/3 full. Handle the needles as instructed in order to prevent needle sticks. Store needles or lancets away from the reach of children.
- Antibiotics – the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial solutions have changed our health and ability to fight infection. Unfortunately, they have been overused and misused by many, resulting in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and other microorganisms. It is often wise to wait for the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic, if they feel it is warranted, rather than ask for one. If prescribed an antibiotic, take it as directed for the full course of treatment. Be sure the antibiotic is useful against the infection for which it’s intended. Remember that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, not viral such as the common cold, sore throat or runny nose.
- Routine Check-ups – be sure that you and your senior loved one get your routine health exams, preventive screenings and all scheduled vaccines. Caregivers often neglect their own health as they care for others. When you become debilitated you will be at greater risk for opportunistic infections which could end up in hospitalization setting you up for a hospital acquired infection.
There are many other things we can do to stay healthy, including eating nourishing foods, being physically active, drinking adequate amounts of fluids, sleeping enough each night and reducing stress in our lives.
Healthy lifestyles can make a difference in how we weather the storm of illness or hospitalization.
Being an advocate for your own health – as well as that of your senior loved one – can go a long way toward a safe and infection-free healthcare experience.