Accidents, errors and infections occur far too often in hospitals, killing as many as 200,000 people every year and injuring millions more. Fortunately, many hospitals across the country excel at keeping patients safe from harm — and there are ways you can spot them. Here’s what to look for the next time you or a family member enters the hospital.

Do all of your care providers wash their hands?

It seems so simple, but one of the easiest ways of preventing infections is thorough and repeated handwashing.  Every doctor, nurse and technician who cares for you while in the hospital should wash their hands before and after seeing you. Don’t hesitate to speak up and ask your provider to wash their hands if it looks like he or she forgot; it could very well prevent an infection and save your life.

"Hospitals are fast-paced, complex environments where it’s far too easy for the most capable surgeons to make terrible errors."

Does the hospital have technology to prevent medication errors?

Medication errors are the most common form of hospital error.  On average, Medicare beneficiaries experience one medication error per patient every day. Many hospitals have adopted computerized prescriber order entry (CPOE) systems and bedside barcoding technologies to ensure patients receive the correct medication and proper dosage.  Ask if your hospital has this technology in place.

Does the hospital use checklists for surgery and patient care?

Hospitals are fast-paced, complex environments where it’s far too easy for the most capable surgeons to make terrible errors, such as operating on the wrong body part or leaving a sponge in the body cavity. Research shows that when surgeons go through a simple checklist before they wield the scalpel, patients are safer. The use of a checklist can make all the difference. 

Does the hospital actively involve you and your family in your care?

The safest hospitals recognize that patients often know best when it comes to how they are feeling and the treatments that make the most sense for their values and their lives. The hospital staff should encourage you and your family members to speak up if you sense something is amiss. Bring a notebook to the hospital with you to write down everything your doctors and nurses say, as well as how you are feeling so that you can better protect yourself and your providers if something goes wrong.

Start your research with the Hospital Safety Score to determine which is the safest for your family, then look for other ratings as well. Let your doctor know that hospital safety is important to you, and work together to find the best hospital.  You have the right to a hospital stay that is free from harm and error.