AVOID INJURY FROM HOSPITAL ACQUIRED INFECTIONS
Guarding against infections should be a primary goal of the hospital and its employees during your stay. But you can do a few things as well to decrease the possibility that you’ll bring something nasty and potentially serious germ home from the hospital.
Hospitals must have protocols ---written procedures and guidelines --- that all employees must follow to reduce or eliminate a patient developing a hospital acquired infection (HAI). Most times these rules are mandated by city, county, state or federal governments, or certifying organizations. Following these procedures and rules are not optional. If, for example, you are going to surgery, ask what procedures they follow to ensure that patients don’t develop HAIs. Infections most often come from dirty instruments or hands during surgery, from improperly sterilized or handled catheters or needles, or from the contaminated hands of doctors or other health-care workers. And the overuse of antibiotics in general has helped create antibiotic resistant bacteria ---- tough little germs that survive even with the use of certain antibiotics.
Here are a few questions you can ask the next time you’re in the hospital:
- “Did you wash your hands?” Probably a bit difficult for us shy folks to ask the doctor or nurse this question, but you should be mindful of who’s touching you and whether they have washed their hands. The rule: they need to use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Not a bad idea to keep sanitizer at your bedside. If you’re a bit bold, you might even say: "I'm sorry, but I didn't see you wash your hands. Would you mind doing it again?" I’d just give them my hand sanitizer when they come into the room.
- “When can these tubes be taken out?” The risk of infection from a catheter, ventilator or other tube increases significantly if it's left in place for more than two or three days. So every day you should ask when can they be removed for good. This is a great idea because doctors and nurses can forget to remove them one they’ve done their job.
- “Will I receive an antibiotic?” A couple of hours before surgery, ask if an antibiotic will be necessary. A single dose can be appropriate for certain operations, but research suggests that the drug or its timing is improperly administered in up to half of cases. In most situations, it should be given an hour prior to surgery. Ask what type and how much --- even if you don’t know how to interpret the information. Perhaps they will pay more attention and be more careful in dealing with you.
- “Do I have to be shaved for this surgery --- if not, I’d prefer that you don’t do it.” Small cuts and nicks can provide an opening for bacteria. So if you really don’t have to lose your hair prior to that procedure, take the advice of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and don’t shave --- or don't let them shave you --- prior to surgery.
- “Do I really need this heartburn drug?” Hospital patients are often prescribed a proton pump inhibitor, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid and generic) or omeprazole (Prilosec and generic).