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Health care secrets that could save your life

March 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
According to a study, 98,000 people die in hospitals in the U.S. every year because of medical errors. Doctors say the patients who do better in the hospital are the ones who take an active role in their care.Ellen Menard knows what it's like to be on both sides of the hospital bed. The registered nurse and senior hospital executive became a patient with a brain tumor.

"There are a lot of things you don't really appreciate until you're a patient," said Menard. "I've had two brain surgeries and radiation within a year-and-a-half."

As she recovered, she wondered if her insider knowledge kept her healthier in the hospital. Now she's sharing behind the scenes secrets.

Menard says you should always ask what time doctors and nurses change shifts because it's different in every hospital. She says hand-offs are vulnerable times for drop-offs in safety, and advises patients to find out how information is passed on to the next worker.

Number two, what are the nursing turn-over rates on your floor? More than 10 percent is a red flag that could mean unhappy nurses, who impact your care. Also, study your own medical chart.

Know your doctor's patient numbers, not just his pager number. Find out how many specific procedures he or she has performed recently.

"How many of these have you done in the last week, in the last month, in the last year? I want to be on a floor where they took care of a lot of me's," said Menard.

If you need pain medications, ask what the plan is to prevent addiction. Know the hospital's infection track record and ask the quality control office if there been any major MRSA outbreaks.

According to one study, if you have a choice, don't have surgery in July when new medical students start. Two Harvard professors found it's linked to a two-percent increase in length of stay and four-percent increase in mortality.

And if you can pick a day, stay away from Friday surgeries. The Journal of Surgical Research finds higher mortality rates compared to Monday through Wednesday.

"it's a long journey for patients and that's what, you know, that's the thing i know."

Another piece of advice if you're having elective surgery is to ask your surgeon if he or she is planning a vacation. You don't want your doctor out of town if there's a problem right after surgery.