Q: My dad is 79. I make sure he takes his medicines every day. He's going in the hospital for surgery and I'm concerned about him getting the right medicines. Is there something I can do? And what other ways can I help keep him safe?
A: Hospitals have made excellent progress over the past few years in reducing medical errors, especially drug-related mistakes, and preventing in-hospital infections. But no matter how good a hospital's safety record, the complexity of medical care makes errors and all infections impossible to avoid.
So, just by asking this question, you're already taking the most important step to help keep your dad safe.
Engage with your dad's nurses. They'll be spending the most time with him. It's best if you can talk with his primary nurse the day he's admitted. Here are the questions you should ask to help make your dad's hospitalization go smoothly:
What medicines are currently ordered? What does each one do? It's important to ask because it may not be on your dad's record if he had an adverse reaction to one of the medicines.
Is he receiving blood clot prevention? People in the hospital are at increased risk of blood clots forming in the legs. Medicines, mechanical devices on the legs or both can help to prevent clots.
Can any of the tubes be removed today? The tubes may include intravenous lines, as well as catheters to drain urine. Keeping the number of tubes going into and out of the body to a minimum helps decrease infection risk.
Does he need to be kept in a certain position in bed? For example, raising the upper body may help with breathing or help avoid the backup of stomach contents into the lungs (aspiration).
How often does he need to be turned from one side to the other? Ask the nurse if you can safely turn your dad in bed. Frequent turning helps avoid bed sores.
Can I help get him out of bed? Ask this often. This question prompts everyone to work with him more and keep him moving.
What do I and other visitors need to do about hand cleansing? Feel free to make sure that all hospital personnel wash their hands before touching your dad.
You will have other specific questions and concerns. Express them, and always finish with, "How can I help?"
(Howard LeWine, M.D., is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Chief Medical Editor of Internet Publishing at Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.)
(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)
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