Patients are often released from a hospital before they are fully healed or at optimal health. In some cases, they are released to their home, where they are expected to perform self-care (such as taking medications or ensuring that a limb is kept elevated) and schedule follow-up appointments with the hospital. In other cases, they are released to care facilities, where their needs are expected to be met by other healthcare professionals. In some instances, they may be assigned a home healthcare professional.
Although these transitions, in general, are often ideal for both the patient and the hospital — allowing the patient to move to a more comfortable location while also freeing up a hospital bed — they are not always executed in the safest manner. In fact, data suggest that transitioning from a hospital to a home or a care facility is often wrought with dangers.
The Rate of Adverse Event Pending Hospital Discharge
Multiple studies conducted throughout the years have found that when patients are transitioned out of hospitals, errors are likely to happen. In fact, a study dating back more than a decade — to 2003 — published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that about 1 in 5 patients experienced an adverse event after discharge. (The study looked at the discharge outcomes of 400 patients.) Of these adverse events, nearly one-third were completely preventable.
But the Annals study is not the only one that speaks to the rate of error and patient adverse event upon discharge, nor is it the most recent. A 2010 study published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that nearly 20 percent of patients experienced an adverse event within three weeks of discharge, nearly 75 percent of which could have been “prevented or ameliorated.” The most common types of adverse events reported by the study were adverse drugs events, hospital-acquired infections, and procedural complications.
If that were not enough, a 2012 study published by Harvard Medical School states that after discharge, nearly half of the 851 patients involved in the study experienced one or more medication errors at home during the first month. Twenty-three percent of these errors were serious, and 2 percent were life threatening. Many of the errors were preventable.
Although it seems reasonable to assume that a decade’s worth of time is more than enough to make changes to protect patients, a study published this year — in 2016 — found that discharge summaries of patients do not always match forms for long-term care facility admissions. In fact, more than 50 percent of the time, the information collected in the study did not match. And in 70 percent of admissions, there was at least one medication discrepancy. The report can be found online at P&T Community.
It is important to note that medication and other hospital discharge errors do not just occur when a patient is being transferred from a hospital to another type of care facility. They can also happen when a patient discharge occurs in general, including when a patient is transitioning to home health care.
Why Do Medical Errors Occur?
Finding out why the errors occur in the first place is key to stopping them and protecting patients. One problem may be a lack of accurate hospital discharge plans. Usually, this is compounded by poor communication between a patient’s primary care provider and hospital teams, unclear medication instructions or mix-ups in medication names, and a lack of follow-up — physicians and nurses do not always check in on patients early enough.
And although making errors on a patient’s chart — such as giving a patient the wrong medication because it was written down incorrectly or confused for another medication — is inexcusable, patients need to play a more active role in the transition in care process, too.
How To Reduce Your Risk of Severe Injury After a Hospital Discharge
An article in The Atlantic recommends that patients do the following five things to reduce their risk of a harm caused during a hospital transition:
- Learn what medications you are taking, keep a detailed list, and double-check this list with any medications prior to taking them. Only using one pharmacy can help to keep things straight.
- Know what to look for and when to call the doctor. Before you are sent home, ask for a detailed list of usual and unusual symptoms.
- Know whom to call in the event that there is a problem, and how to get directly through to your doctor rather than being assigned to speak to someone with no history of your condition.
- Schedule your follow-up appointments well in advance and actually go. Skipping follow-ups can be dangerous and may allow a problem to progress for far too long.
- Keep a notebook of all important information related to your condition, recovery, whom to call, medications you are taking, and more. Keep this notebook on you so in the event of an emergency, it is handy. You can also reference it if you forget something, like on what days or at what times you are supposed to take medications.
Nurse Malpractice, Long-term Care Facility Negligence, and Hospital Errors
When a preventable error occurs, you may be wondering, “Can I sue a home health nurse?” or “Do I have a medical malpractice lawsuit against this doctor?” In some cases, the answer may unequivocally be yes. If a healthcare professional breached the duty of care owed to you, and if this breach resulted in preventable harm, then you should speak with an experienced Indiana medical malpractice lawyer about the losses you have suffered.
Work with Our Experienced Indiana Medical Malpractice Attorneys
We understand that knowing what to do after you have been injured because of a preventable error can be confusing, and that filing a lawsuit against someone you previously trusted — like your nurse or doctor — can be intimidating and emotional. At Baker & Gilchrist, our committed Indiana medical malpractice attorneys will help you to overcome these fears and take meaningful action to pursue compensation for the damages you have suffered. To schedule a free case consultation, contact us by phone or online today.