Hospitals are increasingly dangerous places for patients seeking care

The Michigan Nurses Association recently observed that patient safety is taking a backseat to profits. One way that hospitals may maximize profit is by not employing a sufficient number of nurses to handle the needs of patients. According to the MNA, understaffing causes many Michigan hospital nurses to be left "juggling too many patients on a daily basis." The concerns of the MNA are underscored by an article in Forbes magazine in which it noted that approximately 440,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of preventable medical errors. This figure makes medical negligence in hospitals the third leading cause of death in the United States.

AMN Healthcare says that studies directly link patient safety to adequate nurse staffing levels. According to AMN, nurse fatigue plays a major role in undermining patient safety. Unfortunately, because of staffing cutbacks made by hospital administrators, nurse fatigue is now "pervasive" in the healthcare industry thereby leading to numerous medical errors and poor quality care for patients. One survey of nurses reported that two thirds of RNs stated that they "nearly" made a mistake at work due to fatigue. Moreover, more than one quarter of RNs confessed to having made a fatigue-related error.

Nursing staff cutbacks lead to a myriad of problems. American Nurse Today observes that nurses suffering from fatigue and sleep deprivation have decreased vigilance and reaction time. In addition, fatigue can cause a nurse not to notice or react promptly to a patient's changing condition. Nursing fatigue also leads to medication errors. Medication errors can range from failing to give a patient necessary medication, giving the right medicine in the wrong dosage, or giving the patient an entirely inappropriate drug.

Studies show that nurse fatigue and understaffing is directly tied to higher rates of hospital acquired infections, according to Healthcare Finance News. When nurses are overworked, they may not thoroughly sterilize hospital equipment, such as catheters. In addition, fatigued nurses can forget or neglect to wash their hands on a frequent basis. HAIs are a major health concern in the United States given that patients acquire over 700,000 infections in hospitals each year.

Another problem caused by understaffing pertains to neonatal intensive care units. An article published by The Ohio State University School of Nursing makes reference to a study which reveals that, in many hospitals, there are not enough nurses in neonatal ICUs to properly monitor underweight babies. As a result, these babies often suffer from health problems that double their death rate and can result in long-term developmental issues affecting their subsequent quality of life.

Tips for staying safe

Informed and proactive patients and family members are the best defense against hospital errors. The three most important steps patients should take to minimize the risk of injury in a hospital are:

  • Make sure that you have a friend or family member with you to be your advocate if you are unable to speak for yourself.
  • Before a planned hospitalization, learn as much about what you can expect your treatment and medications to consist of.
  • If something unexpectedly goes wrong while you are hospitalized, try to document what is happening.

Seeking compensation

Do not allow yourself or a loved one to be the uncompensated victim of hospital negligence. If you believe that you or a member of your family has suffered harm while being a patient at a hospital, you should contact a Michigan attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice cases.