YONKERS, NY — In a new report that explores the important role of patient “engagement”, that is open communication with respect and dignity, Consumer Reports has found a striking link between respectful treatment in the hospital and preventable medical errors. It examines the relationship between patient communication and hospital errors, including hospital-acquired infections, drug errors, and other types of preventable harm.

The article, featured in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports and at ConsumerReports.org, also includes findings from a new, national survey of patients’ hospital experiences and a list of the U.S. hospitals that score the highest in both patient respect and safety.

Consumer Reports’ new survey of 1,200 people who were recently hospitalized, found those who said they rarely received respect from hospital staff were two and a half times more likely to experience a preventable medical error – such as a hospital-acquired infection, drug error, or an unplanned trip back to the hospital – as those who felt they were usually treated with respect.

A quarter of respondents said hospital staff didn’t always treat them as adults able to be involved in their own care. And about a third said staff didn’t always listen to them without interrupting, and the same percentage felt their wishes about treatment were not always honored. And, 20 percent of patients surveyed believed they weren’t always treated fairly and without discrimination.

“For more than ten years, we have collected stories from harmed patients who commonly express frustration about not being listened to by staff and doctors during their hospital stay,” said Lisa McGiffert, Manager of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project. “We encourage patients to speak up when they feel that their wishes are not being heard. This survey validates that doing so might actually save your life.”

Every day almost 2,000 people on average pick up an infection in the hospital and about 1,100 preventable drug errors occur. Overall, hospital medical errors are linked to 440,000 deaths annually.

Consumer Reports’ study suggests patients will have better outcomes when hospital staff carefully listens and patients speak up and ask questions. A growing number of health experts believe lack of respect is an ingrained part of medicine that can contribute to medical errors.

Consumer Reports believes patients can increase the odds of a good hospital experience and set the stage for positive interactions by following this checklist:

Choose the right hospital. An analysis of data from Consumer Reports’ Ratings of almost 2,600 hospitals supports the idea that patient satisfaction and patient safety are connected. The full story and consumerreports.org contains a chart of the hospitals that scored high and low in both areas.

Help providers see you as a person. Once you get to the hospital, chances are you won’t know the folks taking care of you, so it’s important to remind them you are more than a just a diagnosis. Share personal things about yourself, such as photos and stories and add personal details when you describe your medical problems to a doctor.

Invite your doctor to have a seat. The increased use of electronic devices by medical staff to collect data is having a real impact on doctor-patient communication. A patient can change this dynamic by inviting their doctor to sit down and have a conversation, making it easier to communicate.

Have “your people” with you. In the Consumer Reports survey people who had family or friends as their health advocate were 15 percent more likely to say they had been treated with respect and 12 percent more likely to recommend their hospital to others.

Know when errors are likely to occur. If you know when and where errors are more likely to occur, such as at shift changes or transitions such as moving from ICU to a hospital floor, be sure to have your advocate present. It can also be helpful to have an “inside troubleshooter” and an often untapped resource is the hospital ombudsman, or patient advocate, an intermediately between patients and staff, available at many facilities. Fewer than half of those surveyed by Consumer Reports knew such a person was available, and almost no one, just 4 percent, asked to see one.

Keep the concept of partnership in mind. There is a good and a bad way of challenging your doctor. The notion that “you are the expert when it comes to your body and the doctor is the expert when it comes to medicine” is a good rule of thumb. There should be a spirit of teamwork that includes shared observations, knowledge and information and asking questions – but not making accusations.

Write things down. With doctors, nurses, technicians, medical students and social workers in and out of your room, it can be very hard to keep track of what they are all doing, especially when you are ill. Keep a journal and pen, or an e-device, ready at your bedside to take notes and write things down to share.

If you don’t understand something, ask again. Medicine is complicated and full of technical terms and sometimes doctors, who are immersed in it, forget you haven’t studied it. Feel comfortable to politely remind them that you may need them to slow down and translate into plain English, so you can fully understand.

The full report, “How Not to Get Sick(er) in the Hospital,” which includes Ratings of almost 2,600 U.S. hospitals, is featured in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, and at ConsumerReports.org. The survey was funded with a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

See the original press release here.


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