New doctor learns valuable patient safety lessons at mother’s bedside

While a hospital may seem like a safe place to stay, that’s not always the case. Hospital workers have a lot to pay attention to with patient care, and as one new doctor learned, sometimes simple safety issues are overlooked.

A Harvard Medical School graduate learned some of her most valuable lessons — particularly about what can go wrong with basic medical care at hospitals — while at the bedside of her mother who was battling cancer. Although the hospital where her mother was being treated at is nationally ranked, several concerning incidents of hospital malpractice occurred while her mother was a patient there.

On one occasion a stethoscope struck the woman’s mother in the face, leaving her with a black eye. She suffered from frequent falls, preventable side effects from medication errors and she came very close to having an unnecessary brain operation.

One of the medications being administered was an anti-seizure medicine, the dosage of which was given based on the patient’s nutritional status. When a doctor would see her dose was low and would not take into consideration the nutrition factor, the doctor would increase the dosage causing an overdose that would result in the woman sleeping for days. As her prognosis was such that she had only months to live, each of those “lost” days was important to the patient’s family.

Of all the hospital mistakes that were made, though, a particularly disturbing error occurred when the wrong drug was used for a chemotherapy treatment. When her usual oncologist wasn’t on duty one day and another doctor was covering the shift, a chemotherapy drug that lasted only one day was administered instead of the drug that should have been used, which lasted for a week. The cancer patient had gone almost an entire week without the necessary chemotherapy medication she needed.

After going through all of this with her mother, the woman finished medical school and is now a doctor. She said that witnessing how easily mistakes are made in hospital settings has made her realize that families can do a lot to prevent some mistakes from happening. The doctor said that some families spend more time with patients than doctors and nurses do, and family members may be able to notice when a patient’s care or treatment is not right before medical professionals notice that something is wrong.

Source: ProPublica, “What a New Doctor Learned About Medical Mistakes From Her Mom’s Death,” Marshall Allen, Jan. 9, 2013

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