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The number of patients that die each year due to preventable hospital errors is equal to four full jumbo jets crashing each week. While hospitals are capable of great medical feats, they are also riddled with daily errors that claim lives.

More than a decade into the fight against medical errors, there is little reason to think the risks have declined considerably for the 37 million people that are hospitalized annually. When, in fact, recent studies have shown a problem that is bigger and more complex than ever thought. A study in January, regarding Medicare patients, suggested that hospital staff failed to report an estimated 86 percent of harms done to patients. If most harms, that are inflicted on patients are not reported, they can never be tracked or corrected, pointed out the Health and Human Services Department study.

In a more recent study, built on the previous HHS study, researchers found that one in seven suffered serious or long-term injuries or died, as a result of hospital care. About 44 percent, according to researchers were in fact preventable.

Sure, there has been notable progress such as utilizing checklists to reporting hospital infection rates on state Web sites. Still, though, the question remains how close can hospitals ever come to being error-free? The answer is controversial depending on who you ask. But most importantly YOU need to play an active role in your medical care as much as you can.

Below are tips to help protect you and loved ones from hospital errors.

Advocates agree that patients can lessen their risk of harm by monitoring their care. Ask questions and if you don’t understand the answer, seek clarification.

Carry a notebook – sounds easy enough, right? Write down all your medications (prescription and non-prescription), why you take them and who they were prescribed by. When possible, include contact information. Take it a step further and use this same notebook to take notes during doctor visits or hospital stays.

Make sure your doctor is aware of any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines in the past.

When your doctor writes a prescription, make sure you can read it. And that you know what it is. If you can’t read it, chances are the pharmacist can’t read it either.

Hand sanitizer – this is a no brainer, always have a bottle with you and use it frequently. Ask healthcare workers that have direct contact with you if they have washed their hands, this is the single most effective way to prevent infection.

Bring an advocate – a family member or friend – particularly during check-in and discharge. Some hospitals have a staff person or advocate you can consult. If you hire your own, check their credentials.

Referrals – ask your doctor for a person recommendation before seeking out a specialist.

Surgery Prep – make sure that you and your doctor and surgeon all agree on exactly what is going to be done. For instance, if you are having surgery on your left hand, make sure that all involved know it’s the left hand. It might sound silly, but it happens.

Follow up – if you have a test and don’t get a response, follow up. Don’t assume that no news is good news.

Lastly and most importantly, we all have a tendency to use the Internet to self asses what is wrong with us. But still see your doctor and do visit a reliable Web site such as or

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