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Consumer Reports finds link between “respectful treatment” and fewer medical errors in hospitals


When patients go to the hospital, they should communication openly with their caregivers and expect to be treated with respect and dignity.

In a survey, Consumer Reports found a link between respectful treatment in hospitals and preventable medical errors.

The survey of 1,200 people, who were recently hospitalized, found those who said they rarely received respect from hospital staff were two and a half times more likely to experience a preventable medical error – such as a hospital-acquired infection, drug error, or an unplanned trip back to the hospital – as those who said they were usually treated with respect.

A quarter of respondents said hospital staff didn’t always treat them as adults able to be involved in their own care. And about a third said staff didn’t always listen to them without interrupting, and the same percentage felt their wishes about treatment weren’t always honored. And, 20 percent of patients surveyed believed they weren’t always treated fairly and without discrimination.

“For more than 10 years, we have collected stories from harmed patients who commonly express frustration about not being listened to by staff and doctors during their hospital stay,” said Lisa McGiffert, manager of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project. “We encourage patients to speak up when they feel that their wishes are not being heard. This survey validates that doing so might actually save your life.”

Every day, nearly 2,000 people pick up an infection in a hospital and about 1,100 preventable drug errors occur. Annually, hospital medical errors are linked to about 440,000 deaths.

Consumer Reports believes patients can increase the odds of a good hospital experience and set the stage for positive interactions by the following:

  • Choose the right hospital. An analysis of data from Consumer Reports’ Ratings of nearly 2,600 hospitals supports the idea that patient satisfaction and patient safety are connected. The article and offers a chart of the hospitals that scored high and low in both areas.
  • Help providers see you as a person. When you get to the hospital, chances are you won’t know the people taking care of you, so it’s important to remind them you are more than a just a diagnosis. Share personal things about yourself, such as photos and stories, and add personal details when you describe your medical problems to a doctor.
  • Invite your doctor to have a seat. The increased use of electronic devices by medical staff to collect data is having a real impact on doctor-patient communication. A patient can change this dynamic by inviting their doctor to sit down and have a conversation, making it easier to communicate.
  • Have “your people” with you. In the Consumer Reports survey, people who had family or friends as their health advocate were 15 percent more likely to say they had been treated with respect and 12 percent more likely to recommend their hospital to others.
  • Know when errors are likely to occur. If you know when and where errors are more likely to occur, such as at shift changes or transitions such as moving from ICU to a hospital floor, be sure to have your advocate present. It can also be helpful to have an “inside troubleshooter” and an often untapped resource is the hospital ombudsman, or patient advocate, an intermediately between patients and staff, available at many facilities. Fewer than half of those surveyed by Consumer Reports knew such a person was available, and almost no one, just 4 percent, asked to see one.
  • Keep the concept of partnership in mind. There’s a good and a bad way of challenging your doctor. The notion that “you are the expert when it comes to your body and the doctor is the expert when it comes to medicine” is a good rule of thumb. There should be a spirit of teamwork that includes shared observations, knowledge, and information and asking questions – but not making accusations.
  • Write things down. With doctors, nurses, technicians, medical students, and social workers in and out of your room, it can be difficult to keep track of what they’re all doing, especially when you’re ill. Keep a journal and pen, or an e-device, ready at your bedside to take notes and write things down to share.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask again. Medicine is complicated and full of technical terms and sometimes doctors, who are immersed in it, forget you haven’t studied it. Feel comfortable to politely remind them that you may need them to slow down and translate into plain English, so you can fully understand.

The report based on the survey, “How Not to Get Sick(er) in the Hospital,” which includes ratings of almost 2,600 U.S. hospitals, is featured in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reportsand at

Copyright 2014, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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