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How to protect your child from medical errors

As a parent, you should feel secure bringing your child to the hospital when he’s sick or in need of surgery. But with hospital errors being the third leading cause of death in the U.S., how can you be sure your child is safe?

Little girl and doctor |

Know it can happen to your child

Despite the fact that clinicians in hospitals have dedicated their lives to saving others, Leah Binder, CEO and president of The Leapfrog Group, an an employer-based organization that advocates for hospital safety, says medical errors happen due to the complex nature of the business and the number of people involved.

Binder notes that, for the most part, hospital clinicians are doing their due diligence and stresses that errors occur not because they don’t care, but because there are thousands of hospital workers that are required to follow very complex procedures, which creates many opportunities for error.

For example, Binder shares that the seemingly simple process of prescribing, filling and administering medication to a child involves multiple people. She says, “If just one small error is made along the way, the results can be catastrophic.”

Do your homework

Binder tells us that parents shouldn’t be afraid to take their children to the hospital — but they should be “appropriately cautious.” She advises parents to do their own due diligence before going to any hospital, regardless if it is the one where your child’s doctor or pediatrician does his rounds or recommends you go for surgery or treatment. Binder also suggests checking the “safety score” of your local hospitals though the user-friendly site Hospital Safety Score.

Be an advocate

Binder notes that by far the No. 1 way to stop the spread of infection in the hospital is ensuring that everyone who touches your child has just washed his or her hands. She suggests watching all of the staff and clinicians closely to ensure they wash their hands when they enter your child’s hospital room and before they touch your child.

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She also advises parents to bring a notepad along with them when they speak to doctors about anything from surgery procedures to administering your child’s medication so they can take notes to refer back to later. She says, “Know what medications your child is taking and understand each medication — why he’s taking it, what the side effects are and what the proper dosing is. Make sure you understand the instructions and write them all down.”

She also suggests watching when your child is being given medicine to ensure it’s the right time, the right amount and, most importantly, the right medication. She also notes that if your child is being given a sleep medication, that it be tested while in the hospital in case there is a reaction. If your child is going into surgery, ask the clinicians if there is a checklist in the operating room to ensure things are being done according to protocol.

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Trust your instincts… and speak up!

Finally, Binder encourages parents to go with their guts: “Parents often have a second-sense about things that aren’t right, especially with their own children. If something doesn’t look right, don’t assume clinicians know what they are doing. You know your child better than anyone in the hospital.”

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She adds, “You are an equal part of the doctors/nurses that are caring for your child and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Sometimes that means you have to be very assertive and you have to comfortable doing that.”

More on your child’s health and safety

The benefits of a pediatric hospital
Looking at hospitalization through a child’s eyes
Preparing children for x-rays

Photo credit: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty images

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