Health Q&A

World Patient Safety Day: Common patient safety issues and how to prevent them

November 29, 2017

9 December is World Patient Safety Day and focuses on the importance of raising awareness of patient safety issues occurring in medical facilities around the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) patient safety is an endemic concern and estimates show that as many as 1 in 10 patients are harmed while receiving treatment in hospital.

As a patient, it’s important for you to feel safe and comfortable whilst being treated by medical staff and in medical establishments. However, despite the great advancements in medical technology, there is still significant room for mistakes resulting from factors such as human error, technology malfunctions and insufficient medical staff training.

In South Africa, a large factor in the lack of patient safety is the shortage of information and skilled medical specialists. The South African Society of Anesthesiologists (SASA) recently said, ‘We have too few specialists, which means everyone is working extraordinary hours, and we don’t have enough people to safely cover all the procedures to ensure patient safety’.

Everyone needs to play a part in ensuring their safety and the safety of their loved ones when receiving medical treatment. So, we’re here to guide you through precautions to take when receiving medical treatment so that the next time you’re at a medical facility, you can have peace of mind.

Common patient safety issues and what you can do to maximise your safety

Diagnostic Errors
Diagnostic errors have emerged as a serious patient safety problem and the consequences can range from a misdiagnosis to a delayed diagnosis.

What can you do?
• Try to involve yourself as much as possible in your own treatment to reduce the risk of falling victim to a medical diagnostic error.

• Be well advised of your diagnosis and ask questions if you are not sure about something.

• If afterwards, you are still unsure of your diagnosis, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion.

Healthcare-Acquired Infections (HAIs)

HAIs are infections that patients get whilst receiving medical treatment in hospital. According to the South African Medical Journal, the lack of adequate supervision by medical staff compounds this as a patient safety issue. The primary issue noted by the journal is the poorly resourced monitoring of HAIs in South Africa.

Common types of HAIs include:
• Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
• Surgical site infections
• Bloodstream infections
• Pneumonia
• Clostridium difficile (Inflammation of the colon caused by the bacteria)

What can you do?
Many HAIs are preventable when caution is taken. Medical staff are always required to practice exceptional hygiene and you should to. Keep the following few things in mind:

• Hand washing
Wash your hands regularly during hospitalisation and consider using an alcoholic, bacteria-killing spray.

• Medical instruments
Make sure the medical professionals taking care of you use clean instruments during treatment. If you are not 100% convinced, ask them to use a new instrument or get them to clean it in front of you.

• Gloves
Consider wearing gloves to supplement your handwashing. Also, don’t be afraid to request that medical staff use gloves when treating you.

Medication errors

A medication error is when a patient gets the wrong medication entirely, or the incorrect dosage of medication. Research was recently conducted by the South African Journal of Child Health where pharmacists spent 16 weeks in four Pretoria-based paediatric wards. The results of which detected 633 medication errors and found that many the errors involved incorrect dosing, followed by omission of medication and medicine being given at the wrong time.

What can you do?
• Always confirm the name of the medication, dosage and usage when receiving a prescription from a doctor. If you are unable to do so yourself, ask a relative or friend and try to write down the information for your own future reference. Remember you can ask your doctor not to use abbreviations when writing prescriptions to make it easier for you to understand.

• If you are currently on any medication, whether prescription, dietary or herbal, tell your doctor the names of the drugs to prevent any potentially harmful interactions between medications.

• Finally, never be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes the name, look and description of drugs can differ due to pharmaceutical company changes. Be sure to ask your doctor immediately if you have any suspicions to ensure you don’t become victim of a medication error.

We hope this has helped you understand the impact of patient safety issues and the importance of being as highly involved in your treatments as possible. If you’d like further advice on how to make your health, your number one priority, our trained staff would be happy to help.

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