February 09, 2010

How Do You Prevent Errors in Your Care?

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Breast cancer is pink. Colon cancer blue. What color is the ribbon for hospital-associated infections?

Did you know that more people die per year from healthcare-associated infections than from breast cancer? (The stats: 99,000 according to the CDC vs. 40,000 according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The CDC number doesn’t even include people who die from medication errors or surgical mistakes.)

Suffering from medical errors and healthcare-related infections isn’t heroic. There is none of the cultural glam factor that’s ascribed to battling cancer, no Hallmark MRSA cards. But I’m still into making medical error reduction the cause du jour.  The best that can happen is that it will save my life.  And it is hugely more comprehensible and quickly fixable than finding a cure for cancer.

At my recent University of Chicago appointment, a piece of paper called “Speak Up” was sent to my home before the appointment, a nurse read it to me before the doctor entered, and it was posted in plain view in the exam room. The paper said, If you feel comfortable, please feel free to:

1. Ask everyone to identify themselves and wash their hands.
2. Have confirmed your name and DOB before taking meds or treatment.
3. Ask your doc or nurse to fully explain labs, tests, or medications ordered.
4. Ask to speak to a clinic manager to address any concerns.

How freaking fabulous. Never before had I felt so encouraged by a hospital to take charge of my care.

Have you ever suffered from medical errors or healthcare-related infections? What other patient safety points would you add to this list? Would you feel comfortable speaking up in this way?

Read tips from Greg, a stellar patient watch dog, in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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March 10, 2009

What Would You Tell A Newly Diagnosed Patient?

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Flirting in Bars

In today’s Huffington post I talk about 20 and 30-something cancer patients cramming for finals, flirting in bars, climbing the first rung on our career ladder, and changing stinky diapers.

In my interview with Christine Hassler she asks: If you had one thing to share with recently diagnosed 20 and 30 somethings that you wish you had been told, what would it be?

My Response

You do not have to become a glittery superhero in order to fight adversity. Cancer is hard stuff. Strength comes from being real. Allow yourself to sometimes feel vulnerable and to have meltdowns. They do not last forever and you may even feel invigorated afterwards.

Secondly, the definition of hope is fighting for your best care. Cancer is not only emotional and physical, it is administrative too and the burdens of paperwork can really impede our healing. Many hospitals have patient representative services or ombudsmen. If after your second try you are unsuccessful at getting records, obtaining procedural approval, or resolving a financial matter, have one of these professional advocates intervene on your behalf. Think, question, and shout when you need to.

What is one thing you would share with newly diagnosed cancer patients that you wish you had been told?

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