When Kerry Higuera started bleeding three months into her pregnancy, she instantly rushed to the hospital. Fearful that she was miscarrying, she knew that seeing her doctor would most likely give her the best chance to save her pregnancy. Unfortunately, that decision ultimately changed her life for the worse.
Upon arriving at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Arizona in February 2008, a nurse lead Higuera to a room and was instructed to wait for a doctor. However, just a few minutes later, another nurse poked her head into the room and told Kerry that the doctor wanted her to undergo a CT scan of her abdomen. Kerry questioned the nurse, but followed along anyway, confident that her doctor knew the correct procedures to perform.
After the CT scan, the nurse led Kerry back into a waiting room. Soon, the emergency room physician, two radiologists, and a representative from the hospital’s human resources came to speak with her. With such large crowd, Kerry was positive that it was bad news that she had miscarried. In fact, it was much worse news. According to the group of doctors, there were two Kerrys in the hospital that night: Higuera and another, younger woman named Kerry who needed the CT scan. Immediately, the hospital staffers offered to purchase Kerry Higuera flowers and also offered her coupons for free meals in the hospital cafeteria.
No large studies have been done on the effects of CT scans on fetuses. However, experts say that a fetus exposed to radiation can, in some cases, develop physical and mental growth problems. Kerry is being represented by legal counsel in the matter and appears to be moving toward litigation against the hospital, according to a CNN report. Her child, Nathan, is now 15 months old and shows signs of delayed growth. Kerry feels guilty for going to the emergency room that night in February 2008. However, her story is not unfamiliar: patients trust doctors and other hospital staff to be informed and aware.
Indeed, the five wrong-site surgeries at Rhode Island Hospital exemplify the fact that it isn’t uncommon for a hospital patient to fall victim to hospital errors. However, according to Jim Conway, the senior vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, there are some steps you can follow to avoid falling victim to wrong-site surgery or mistaken identity blunders. For example:
1. Say: "My name is Mary Smith, my date of birth is October 21, 1965, and I’m here for an appendectomy."
You might feel like an idiot, but say this to every doctor, nurse, and technician who takes care of you.
2. Say: "Please check my ID bracelet."
Hospital staff is supposed to confirm your identity in at least two ways, according to Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association. One of those ways is to check your ID, or scan it if it has a bar code. Another way is to ask you for your name and date of birth.
Of course, you should check your bracelet to make sure the information on it is correct.
3. Say: "Please look in my chart and tell me what procedure I’m having."
If a nurse states that you’re having an appendectomy and she’s right, that’s not enough, because that nurse won’t necessarily be there with you in the operating room.
"Make sure the nurse is looking at your chart when she tells you what procedure or test you’re having," says Ilene Corina, president of PULSE, New York, a grass-roots patient safety organization.
4. Say: "I want to mark up my surgical site with the surgeon present."
Hospitals these days often hand patients a pen and ask them to mark where they’re going to have surgery. Corina says you should do it in front of the surgeon who will be with you in the operating room, and not just in front of the person who hands you the pen.
"If you mark it and the surgeon doesn’t know about the marking, what’s the point of marking it?" Corina asks.
5. Be impolite.
Foster, the executive at the hospital association, gives this example.
"If the nurse comes in and says, ‘Are you Mary Jones?’ and you’re really Miriam Jones, you might just nod your head and say yes because you’re too polite to correct her," Foster says. "Don’t be polite."
Higuera now wishes she’d been impolite and followed her instincts.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.