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Keeping safe during your hospital stay

December 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
In the medical world, mistakes can destroy lives. According to the Institute of Medicine, medical errors kill 98,000 hospital patients each year. Doctors say patients who do best are those who take an active role in their care.The hospital is a place no one wants to go. But sometimes you don't have a choice.

"There are a lot of things you don't really appreciate until you're a patient," said Ellen Menard, author of "The Not So Patient Advocate."

Menard has been on both sides of the hospital bed. The registered nurse and top hospital manager became a patient with a brain tumor.

"I've had two brain surgeries and radiation within a year and a half," said Menard.

During recovery, she realized her insider knowledge of the system may have kept her safer. Her top behind-the-scenes tip?

"What time do you change shifts? Ask that question, 'cause it's different in every hospital," said Menard.

Menard says safety can slack off during shift changes.

Next up, what's the nursing turnover rate on your floor? More than 10 percent is a red flag and could mean unhappy nurses who impact your care.

Also, study your own medical chart.

"Somebody has to make sure they've got the right kidney when they take it out," said Menard.

Plus, know your doctor's experience and numbers. And we don't mean his pager.

"How many of these have you done in the last week, in the last month, in the last year?" said Menard.

One study says avoid surgery in July. That's when new medical students start. Two Harvard professors say it's linked to a 2-percent boost in length of stay, and a 4-percent spike in mortality.

And don't go under the knife on Friday. One study found higher mortality rates on that day compared to Monday through Wednesday.

"It's a long journey for patients, that's the thing I know," said Menard.

Now she's making sure her journey makes yours a little less frightening.

Want more advice? If you're planning elective surgery, ask if your doctor is planning a vacation. If complications develop, you don't want your doctor to be out of town.

Also, the American Nurses Association lists the hospitals that nurses find most attractive. Experts say good nurses mean better care.