Learning that a loved one may need to go to the hospital can be frightening for your entire family. Your first concern is probably making sure they are cured or healed from the condition that sent them to the hospital in the first place. But did you know that hospitals can be risky places for patients?

One in 25 patients gets a new infection while in the hospital, and as many as 440,000 people die every year because of mistakes in the hospital. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your loved ones.
 

1. Bring a list of your family member’s current medications (including vitamins and supplements) to the hospital with you.

Medication errors are the number one cause of harm in hospitals. Making sure the doctors and nurses know about all the medicines that an individual is taking can help prevent a harmful drug interaction or wrong dosage. If your doctor prescribes a new medication (including those that might be given by an IV), write down what the medication is, what it’s for, and what it looks like. If you don’t recognize a medication that’s being given to your loved one, speak up right away.

2. Always ask doctors, nurses and other staff to wash their hands.

Hand washing is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease in the hospital. It’s okay to say, “I may have missed this, but did you wash your hands?” Make sure that anyone who enters the room washes their hands before coming near your family member.

3. Stick around as long as you can.

Your loved one may not be fully alert or aware of what’s happening around him or her during a hospital stay. But you can be there to take notes, and speak up if you sense something might be wrong. You are a critical member of your loved one’s healthcare team, and you play an equally important role as the doctors and nurses providing medical care.

4. Find a safe hospital.

Some hospitals are much better than others at preventing errors. Use tools like the Hospital Safety Score (which includes helpful videos on steps to take for a safe hospital stay), Consumer’s Checkbook, and the government’s Hospital Compare website to find the safest hospital in your community. Whether your family member is getting surgery, having a baby, or needs treatment for a chronic disease, you’ll feel better knowing where to get safer care.