There seems to be good reason for that common but little
publicized condition known as "nosocomephobia" -- the fear of
hospitals. And it goes beyond those oh-too-revealing patient-issued gowns.
Consider a new study indicating that an average of 195,000
people die each year in American hospitals due to potentially preventable
medical errors. This alarming statistic comes after researchers reviewed
records of 37 million hospitalizations. In fact, the report, by Health Grades,
Inc., which assesses hospital safety, finds that one in four Medicare patients
who experienced a hospital error died as a result of it.
As a child, I never would have guessed I'd one day be paid to type the
phrase "jock itch."
Actually, I'm sort of surprised now as an adult to find that jock itch, and
its southerly cousin athlete's foot, still exist. There's something sort of
quaint about these and other minor locker room infections — they seem to
belong in the moldering realm of short shorts and tube socks that marked our
fathers' Saturday mornings at the Y. Surely today's athletes, with their
x-treme cross trainers and x-treme...
"It's perfectly understandable why many people feel the way
they do about a hospital stay," says Marc Siegel, MD, internist at New York
University Medical Center and clinical associate professor at its school of
medicine. "You have control of your life ... up until you're admitted to a
Then, your fate is placed in the hands of others -- often,
overworked doctors, nurses, and other staff who may have the best of intentions
... along with dozens of other patients to care for on each and every
What Can (and Does) Go Wrong
That may explain why medication errors occur in nearly one in
five doses administered at the typical hospital or skilled-nursing facility,
according to a September 2002 study in Archives of Internal Medicine.
That research indicated that in nearly half those errors, the dosage was given
at the wrong time; in 30% of cases the drugs weren't given; and in 17% of
cases, the issued dosage was wrong. About one in 25 patients got the wrong
drugs altogether, say researchers.
Of course, there are other potential
problems: Designated menus that contain food that is prohibited for your
condition, such as a vegetable-rich diet for patients being treated for blood
clots or solid foods served to those needing liquid diets, unresponsive staff
to change IV bags before they're empty, and even the biggie -- the risk of
having the wrong surgery.
"Many patients go into a hospital on blind faith, because
they think that whatever is being done to them is OK because it's a
hospital," says Vincent Marchello, MD, medical director of Metropolitan
Jewish Geriatric Center in New York City, and assistant clinical professor of
medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "They shouldn't."
So how can you protect yourself during a
"I'd say the single biggest mistake that patients make is
to not ask questions about their care," says Marchello. "They don't
want to be a bother, but doctors today have a better bedside manner than in the
past largely because of efforts made by medical schools. If you think there may
be a problem, ask about it ... before it is a problem."