How Doctors Think: Two Heads Are Better Than One

My husband came home yesterday with a story about an employee who was misdiagnosed with a back problem. Gary is a tall, once lanky 50-something guy whose stooped posture now betrays pain and significant muscle deterioration. He has the walk and energy level of a 90-year old and, despite weekly therapy, his body seemed to be aging by the minute.

Fortunately for Gary, his wife spoke up to her neurologist at one of her own recent appointments and described his condition. Amazingly, the neurologist offered a diagnosis on the spot that turned out to be spot on! Gary switched doctors and has every reason to hope for full recovery of his old athletic self.

Knowing the work I do, Gary shared this experience with my husband, calling it a “medical error”. A year or so ago I would have agreed, but I think differently now that I’ve read a terrific book by Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think. Groopman describes how doctors form their professional judgments — exactly how all of us form our ideas about things.

We all have life experiences that shape how we perceive and analyze information. Whether we realize it or not, we are chock full of filters — some would call them biases. For the most part, they tend to serve us well. How else could we sort through the information overload we seem to manage on a daily basis?

Doctors tend to filter patients’ information in the same way. They hear or see a set of symptoms and their minds immediately sort through past history with the same symptoms to come up with a solution or cure.

In Gary’s case, he saw an orthopedic doctor who saw his symptoms through the prism of his own experience with the bones and muscle of the back. His wife’s neurologist analyzed the same set of symptoms through the prism of his specialty – the nervous system that runs through the back. I don’t believe the first doctor made a mistake — he just did not have exactly the right filter for Gary’s problem.

So what’s the moral of this story? Trust yourself, trust your body. If you’re not getting better under one doctor’s care, get another doctor’s brain on your case. Get a third or fourth opinion if necessary. Don’t stop until it feels like you have the right doctor for you with the right solution you need.

Stranger Than Fiction: Hospital Safety by the Numbers

Did you know that one in three patients is accidentally harmed during a hospital stay? That adds up to about 13 million patients a year who suffer needlessly, and among those, about 400,000 people die as a result in a given year.

When we talk about these big numbers, it’s really hard to wrap our heads around what they mean in real-life terms. So imagine this:

You wake up tomorrow morning to the news that three, fully loaded passenger jets crashed overnight in an Iowa cornfield. There were no survivors.

The media floods Iowa to cover the triple tragedy. The entire world demands answers. What went wrong? Who’s to blame? Grief permeates the air. Hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones. That night, sleep is elusive.

The next morning, headlines shriek again: Three more planes down in the dark night; all passengers and crew are dead. Every imaginable government agency and corporation rush to stem panic and find solutions.

But the third day dawns with numbing news that three more planes full of innocent passengers who dared to board those planes had disintegrated overnight. It feels like the world is coming to an end. However, it’s clear this string of deadly disasters has finally stopped — the airline industry has gone down in flames too. No one even thinks about stepping foot on a plane.

Nine planes crashed. 2,457 innocent people lost their lives on big-name carriers they trusted. But guess what…

During the same three days, 3,000 patients accidentally died in hospitals they trusted. Except the accidental deaths in U.S. hospitals didn’t stop at day three. In fact, they never stop. And the media… they say it’s an old story so barely give notice. And besides, when we’re sick, we have to go to a hospital. What’s the alternative?

Airline travel is 3,000 times safer than hospital care. The airline industry has been pretty open about its safety records, but it wasn’t until recently that we had any guides for choosing safe hospitals. But now we do. Before you or a loved one ever needs hospital care, be sure to check out your options here:

Pilots never take off without a co-pilot and they always go through their safety checklists together. You should never go to a hospital without a friend or family member as your Care Partner. And both of you should go prepared with your CampaignZERO safety checklists, too.

Hospital hazards for patients are mostly invisible to the naked eye. But when you have your hospital checklists, you’ll know what to look for, what to do, and what to say to get safe and sound care for the people you love.

Help Save Lives with A Click

Patient Safety Day is coming up on September 17th. If you’re reading this, no doubt you are already aware of the hazards that patients face in medical care.

I am so glad you’ve found us here at CampaignZERO because it means you’re being proactive — good for you!

Trust me when I tell you that you’re in the tiny minority of informed and active. So often I seem to get cross-eyed looks when people ask me about what I do and I say, “I help families learn how to get safe care for their loved ones in the hospital.” The reaction is usually puzzlement, with a response like:

”Isn’t that what doctors and nurses are for?”

“We use ‘X’ hospital for everything and it’s brand new, state-of-the-art.”

“That’s the reason I go to a doctor that’s affiliated with a teaching hospital, so I know I’ll be getting the best if I ever need it.”

“Our local hospital is wonderful. We know everyone there. My neighbor is Chief of Surgery and my son’s best friend’s mom is head of nursing.”

In every case, the real message is “I’m in a comfort zone” — please don’t invade it by telling me there’s one more thing in this life I need to worry about!

I get it! I’m the same way — I don’t want to hear about a problem without knowing the solution. I just can’t deal with the anxiety otherwise!

That’s why I founded CampaignZERO.

It’s for all of us who are aware of patient safety issues but need to feel we can do something about them — one patient at a time, beginning with those we love.

Would you help spread awareness…and our solutions? Please share CampaignZERO with your friends and family and we’ll all sleep better tonight!

Medication Management is a Hot Mess!

Too many patients end up back in the hospital in just a few weeks. Often, it’s because they miss their follow up doctor’s appointments or can’t get to the drug store to get prescribed medicines.

And, too, a recent Yale study revealed that fully 75% of patients aged 65/older don’t understand their medication routine after leaving the hospital — or they get an incorrect prescription at discharge. This problem is not likely limited to seniors: numerous other studies have confirmed that patients forget up to 80% of what their doctors and nurses tell them, and this doesn’t change at discharge.

No wonder about 20% of patients end up back in the hospital!

So what can you do to help prevent a round trip back to the hospital?

  • Make sure your loved one gets the correct medications filled.
  • During the hospital stay, don’t be afraid to ask nurses or doctors to help you plan for care post-discharge — that’s part of their job, and they’ll be glad to know you’re thinking ahead.
  • On the day of discharge, don’t hesitate to ask questions until every detail is crystal clear and take good notes. (It’s OK to ask for as much time as you need to “get it right.”)
  • Go over meds your loved one was taking when admitted and those prescribed going forward. Discuss changes – understand why for each one.
  • For every medication, ask:
    • What is this for?
    • What are the signs it’s working? What are the symptoms it’s not working?
    • What are the potential side effects?
    • How does this work with other meds taken (even vitamins, herbal supplements, drugstore-type aids)? Are they safe together?
    • Any limitations for activity and diet?
    • Who should we call if we have more questions or concerns? (Note: www.WebMD.com is a good source of medication info, and it’s always a good idea to double-check these details. WebMD offers a free app, too.)
  • If your loved one is 65 or older, look up every prescribed drug to see if it’s on the Beers list of “caution” medications for older adults. If you find one of these prescribed for your loved one, be sure to bring this to the doctor’s attention.
  • Help your loved one create a good, safe system for managing medications at home. Think about special pillboxes, apps, alarms, and checklists… anything that makes it easier to take meds safely. (If you are stumped for ideas, ask your pharmacist.)
  • Check in with your loved one frequently, at least once a day for at least a month after discharge. Be on alert for signs of trouble.
  • If you have any concerns whatsoever, don’t hesitate to call a doctor.

All of these details can be daunting, but you are so smart to be proactive. It’s downright scary when patients of any age don’t have a handle on their medication instructions: now you know how to help!

When it comes to managing medications, the old saying “It’s better to be safe than sorry” couldn’t be timelier.

What’s THE Best Gift for Someone in the Hospital?

No doubt, you’ve heard about hospital infections.  Patients can pick up a “superbug” that lurks on every hospital surface.  The #1 way to prevent a hospital staph infection is hand-washing, yet soap dispensers are usually hung on a wall — far out of reach for patients!  

So… bring on the Purell! (Or any other brand you trust.) When patients have their own soap on hand, their hands will be safer. And, if a doctor, nurse or anyone else forgets to wash before touching them, a personal stash of Purell will be at their fingertips to share.  

Don’t forget to bring CampaignZERO’s checklists to prevent infections, too!