A Patient’s Guide: How To Stay Safe In a Hospital

ProPublica Staff

United States (ProPublica) – by Blair Hickman

Propping up a patient’s hospital bed at a 30-degree angle can help prevent hospital-acquired pneumonia. Using alcohol wipes kills staph bugs, but you need bleach wipes to kill C. diff germs. High-protein snacks can help prevent bed sores.

However, most patients don’t know these things. And doctors and nurses can easily overlook these basic care practices.

Karen Curtiss makes it her mission to remind them. After her father and husband both experienced adverse events in the hospital, Curtiss says, she founded Campaign Zero to arm patients with the information they need for a safe stay. Her book, “Safe & Sound in the Hospital: Must-Have Checklists and Tools for Your Loved One’s Care,” collects scores of these simple actions and details that can make a big difference in a patient’s recovery.

Checklists have become more common for surgeons in the operating room. But according to Curtiss, she’s the only one producing checklists on hospital care for patients and families.

To make the checklists, Curtiss read everything she could get her hands on: nursing textbooks, information from the CDC, academic publications. She took her work to specialists and focus groups. And then distilled all of the information into something so simple a sixth-grader could read it.

We sat down with Curtiss, who is a member of ProPublica’s Patient Harm Community, to find out more about patient-centered checklists.

Why checklists?

Conventional wisdom says that when you go to the hospital, you take someone with you. However, nobody is prepared. There’s nothing in college that teaches you how to be an advocate. There’s nothing in your life experience. We have an army of people sitting bedside, who are ripe for education.

We put a checklist out on Campaign Zero, but I could tell from the traffic that people were finding it only after a problem had occurred. They were Googling bed sores and how to treat them, staph infections. People do not prepare to be sick. So I wrote the book.

I learned during my research that there are repeated problems that put people back into the hospital that nobody ever tells you about. For example, if you have congestive heart failure, you need to weigh yourself every single day. If you gain two pounds in a day, you have to get to a doctor right away.

But I don’t know how many people are told that. Even if you are told that when you’re discharged, many people are still on drugs and not thinking clearly. And it’s a hurried process. They need someone there with faculties intact to ask the questions, sweat the details, know what to look for and be encouraged to ask questions. The simple affirmation that it’s OK to ask questions makes people more comfortable.

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