Fear of flying? Hospitals may be scarier -- so take precautions

To those who fear flying: Your chances of dying in a hospital because of a medical mistake are much, much higher than going down in an airplane, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

In a news briefing Thursday, WHO’s newly appointed envoy for patient safety Liam Donaldson pointed out that the chance of dying in a plane crash is about 1 in 10 million, but some 1 in 10 patients encounter medical errors at the hospital. The chances of dying from an error are about 1 in 300, Reuters reports.

Donaldson cited the oft-made comparison of the aviation and health-care industries in an effort to promote the WHO's surgical safety checklist for hospitals, but there are also several ways patients can protect themselves from errors, and in particular, from infection.

Here are a few tips from the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths:

- Ask hospital workers if they’ve washed their hands, or used an alcohol-based cleaner, before they touch you.

- If the doctor uses a stethoscope, ask him or her to wipe it with alcohol.

- Avoid putting your hands near your mouth.

- If you’re going for surgery, stop smoking in advance — smokers are more likely to get infections and take longer to recover. Don’t shave the area where you’ll be having the surgery (bacteria could enter through nicks). And remind the surgeon that you may need an antibiotic before surgery.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a list of 20 tips for avoiding errors.

And of course, avoiding hospitals cuts down the risk of contracting a hospital infection. Eating healthily and exercising, so as to avoid chronic illnesses that might bring you to the hospital, can’t be bad.

healthkey@tribune.com

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