Monday, March 15, 2010


When hospitalized, ‘knowledge is power’

If you or a loved one has ever been hospitalized, you know this can be an intimidating and fear-provoking experience. But understanding the hospital staff’s focus on patient safety and patient education may help alleviate some of the fear.

While National Patient Safety Awareness Week was celebrated March 7-13, at The William W. Backus Hospital we focus on patient safety and education year round.

Hospital staff members are diligent in their attention to these two areas, and the two are often intertwined.

For example, your education starts at admission. The “call bell” to signal you need assistance, should be given, explained, and always within reach. This is also a safety issue.
A thorough admission nursing history will be taken — tedious, for sure, but vital for your safety.

Medications taken at home will be listed on your record to ensure that the physician has this vital information to then prescribe safe and appropriate medications for you while hospitalized.

Your primary care provider may participate in the Hospitalist program at Backus, which means they will not be caring for you after you are admitted — hospitalists will. Hospitalists are highly trained physicians that care for patients only while hospitalized. They are present 24/7 and readily available for in-person communication with the nurses, or to come to the bedside for consultations, emergencies, and changes of condition.

An individualized plan of care is developed by the physician and nurse upon admission. Patients and family members are encouraged to ask questions and participate in the process. Any change in condition may necessitate a new plan of care. The more knowledgeable you are, the better the care you receive.

Becoming educated on your illness, treatment, procedures, and medications is of the utmost importance. Ask your nurse to explain everything to you. Besides the real-time verbal explanations, the nursing staff has resources available to teach you: printed materials, booklets, handouts, and in some cases, videos.

Every procedure or test that is done should be thoroughly explained beforehand. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

You should understand each medication that is prescribed to you at the time it is given. It is for your own safety that the nurse asks you for two “identifiers” – your name and date of birth – before giving you your medication. It may seem ridiculous when the same nurse asks you these same questions during each medication pass, during the same shift, but this is to insure your safety.

Effective pain control is another very important part of your care. Your level of pain must be reassessed after any pain medication is given, to determine the effectiveness. This is why the nurse repeatedly asks, “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst possible pain, what is your pain level right now?”

Food and nutrition is important to your recovery. A dietitian is available to teach you about any diet restrictions or nutrition protocol you may have when you are discharged.

When a patient is from another culture or does not speak English, communication and education becomes even more essential to insure safe care. Backus has two translation services available: a phone dual-handset interpreter system, and a video translation service, both available 24 hours a day.

Social services and care managers are available to assist you if there are any issues related to discharge or home care.

Last, but not least, upon discharge, you should be given written instructions on how to care for yourself when you go home. Your discharge medications, follow–up medical appointments, scheduled outpatient procedures, and any instructions should be thoroughly explained to you. Ask the staff to clarify anything you don’t understand. “Knowledge is power” applies to your health and safety. Ask questions — for your own safety!

Alice Facente is a registered nurse and clinical educator with the Backus Education Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your physician. E-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

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