Lets face it, nobody likes being in hospital. Although much has been done to make them customer-friendly and less intimidating, the fact remains that those who are hospitalised are unwell people who hope to get well and get out of the hospital as quickly as possible. There’s no denying healthcare personnel often have the same objective, to get the patient well as quickly as possible, but Forbes recently highlighted in an article the scariest hospital complications which may occur even in the top medical centres.
Taking a look at the list, its no surprise that medical errors top the list. Ranging from leaving swabs inside the surgery-site to amputating the wrong limb and from prescribing the wrong medication to misreading the dosage on the label, hospital managements are making concerted efforts to reduce or even eliminate these errors, similar to the risk management strategies undertaken in the corporate arena. This has taken added impetus with the recent announcement in the US that Medicare will stop reimbursing hospitals for medical errors from October 1st.(see here)
Another area of concern is infected surgical sites, as hospital germs are more likely to be resistant to antibiotics that are used to kill them off. Antibiotics before the operation can help and sterile dressings do matter in reducing the incidence of wound infection.
These germs, known as super-bugs, are also a well-known threat that can cause infection to ill patients on respirators in the ICU setting as well as those with tubes or catheters. So-called because they are resistant to the usual antibiotics, these hospital-bred germs are normally resident within the ICU despite active precautionary measures to abolish them. Once these super-bugs gain access to the ill patient, be it through the respirator to the lungs; or catheters to the bloodstream, extra-potent antibiotics need to be used, which themselves carry serious side-effects. Sterile gowns, gloves and masks used by staff do help to minimise such infections but perhaps the most effective method of control is the simple act of washing one’s hands before and after visiting the patient ..and this applies to visitors as well!
Bleeding is a recognised complication following surgery. Quite often this may be due to imperfect control of blood-thinning medications or taking other undisclosed pills. I have highlighted this in an earlier post on the role of herbal supplements. While this complication is relatively easy to be addressed (via a blood transfusion), this by itself carries risks.
Visiting a patient in the hospital’s ICU? Take my advice – wash your hands with the provided liquid soap or alcohol hand-rub before and after seeing the patient. Hand Washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection to yourself and the patient.
Update 7 Sep 2008 : Call it coincidence, a day after this post was filed, the local newspaper had a full-page article on ‘superbugs’ ; and BBC News came out with a report that a third of patients have unnecessary tubes inserted into veins when they are in hospital. See here.