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David Grebow

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How To Protect Yourself from Hospital Infection
by David Grebow   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, January 02, 2008

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Staff should mean the people who help you get well and NOT the germs that might make you another secret statistic. Here's a short How-To to make your stay in a hospital as safe as possible.

My wife recently went into the hospital for the first time in her - our - life. I spent hours on Google looking at ways to make sure the hospitalization was part of the solution, and not a new and potentially deadly part of the problem.

When she left, the staff was happy. I think it was not as much that she was better, but that we were leaving. Try and remember this if you ever need to go into the hospital: It's all about getting well, not about being popular with the staff.

We've all heard horror stories where a perfectly healthy person checks into a hospital to undergo a routine procedure and never comes out. Still, I was shocked to learn that 100,000 people die every year from the infections they contract in hospitals. These infections are the fourth largest killer in the United States. The other three have lobbyists in Washington, national and even international non-profit groups that try and educate the public, and websites galore. Not this one.

While these statistics are collected, the hospital industry has managed to keep it secret. Many states collect data on infections that lead to serious injury or death, but nearly every state allows the data to remain secret. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also collect infection data from hospitals across the nation, but refuse to make it public.

Ideally you would choose a hospital with a low infection rate. But with all the secrecy surrounding the data, good luck trying to learn that information.
Instead, you can act as your own Health Advocate, and take a few simple steps to dramatically reduce your chances of picking up a life-threatening infection in a hospital facility. Here are a few simple rules that could literally save your life:

1. Request every staff person including doctors and surgeons to wash their hands before examining or treating you. Independent audits and research indicate that busy doctors and overworked staff clean their hands before treating a patient only 48 percent of the time, and the rate is significantly worse at some hospitals. Don't let gloves fool you. Gloves protect the caregiver, not the patient. Gloves spread germs once contaminated.

2. Request the doctor or nurse wash and clean the stethoscope or other equipment with alcohol before examining you. This should be routine, but is frequently overlooked as the caregiver rushes from room to room, patient to patient.

3. Beginning one week before surgery, clean as many germs off your body as you can. Try taking frequent showers using chlorhexidine or other type of antibacterial soap (available at almost any pharmacy). Use hot water and ask for help if you need assistance.

4. Learn your surgeon's "infection rate." If the surgeon will not tell you this information, or you discover your surgeon has a poor track record, find another surgeon.

5. Avoid a urinary catheter if at all possible. Far too many times such a device is inserted routinely for staff convenience, not for medical reasons. A catheter is a common cause of infection and if left in long enough, an infection is nearly inevitable. If the purpose is only to keep a staff person from having to assist you to the bathroom, do not allow this procedure.

6. Do not allow any part of your body to be shaved before surgery. Shaving results in small nicks and cuts that allow infection to enter. If hair must be removed, instruct that it be done with clippers, not a razor.

7. Request that your surgeon limit the number of people in the operating room including observing medical students and others. The more people present, the higher the risk of infection.

If you think you might be unable to make sure these rules are followed, appoint a person who can intervene for you. If managing your health care in this way seems too aggressive to you, remember that going home from the hospital on the road to recovery is more important than trying to win the Top Spot in the Most Popular Patient contest.

(From the "Your Life" series of short How-To articles)

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