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Preventable Complications

If you are going to be in the hospital, you should know that these are the most common complications that you can help prevent:

Bedsores (pressure ulcers)

  • What they are
    Bedsores are a breakdown of skin that results from lying in one position too long. They can become infected and cause serious harm.
  • What you can do to prevent bedsores
    Hospital staff evaluates patients’ skin daily and ensures that patients who cannot move around (for instance, patients who are on a ventilator) are moved every two hours to protect their skin.  If you are in the hospital and cannot move freely, your family can help by reminding the staff to help you turn regularly and to examine your skin closely.

Patient Falls

  • What they are
    Patients sometimes fall because they are weak or dizzy, or they trip on equipment in the room.  
  • What you can do to prevent falls
    Don’t ever get out of your bed without staff assistance.  Even for a quick trip to the bathroom, we want to help you.  Being active is important for your recovery, but we want you to be safe while you move around.

Surgical Errors

  • What they are
    Nationally, one of the most concerning medical errors in surgery is an operation on the wrong patient or the wrong part of the body, or a procedure that is different from the one the patient needs.
  • What you can do to prevent surgical errors
    Your surgeon will confirm with you what kind of surgery you’re having and will mark the part of your body where surgery is planned. Understand that many staff members will ask you to state your name, birth date and planned procedure at every step of the surgical process. It may seem unnecessary, but it is for your protection.

Hospital–Acquired Infections

  • What they are
    There are several common types of infections that can be acquired in the hospital, some of which are preventable. These include surgical site infections, infections at the site of an intravenous line or urinary catheter, and lung infections among patients on a ventilator.
  • What you can do to prevent hospital-acquired infections
    There is a national campaign to prevent infections in the hospital. You can help remind all your visitors, and staff as well, to clean their hands as they enter and leave your room.  Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are mounted in every room for this purpose. This hand gel has been proven to be more effective than soap and water alone.

Medication Errors

  • What they are
    The most common medication errors occur when a medication is delivered at the wrong time, to the wrong patient, or in the wrong dose. While the vast majority of medication errors do not cause harm, it is important to prevent errors, particularly in several classes of high-risk medications.
  • What you can do to prevent medication errors
    Know what medications you are being given and why.  Ask a lot of questions, especially if a medication is new to you, looks different from the one you have been taking, or does not seem to treat your symptoms.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Share with the care team a complete list of all the medications you take at home. Be sure to include any non-prescription or over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal or other supplements, as they can react with prescribed drugs as well.

    When you go home, be sure you fully understand all the medications you will be taking, including why you take them, when to take them, and what side effects to look out for.  Northwestern Memorial pharmacists can help you learn about your medications.

Blood Clots (Pulmonary Embolus (PE) or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT))

  •  What they are
    Hospitalized patients are often inactive, which can cause blood in the vessels to clot.  A clot can become lodged in the deep blood vessels, which is a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Clots can break free, travel through your blood stream and block the blood flow in your lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolus (PE). These conditions are serious and can be life threatening.
  •  What you can do to prevent blood clots
    Follow your doctor's recommendations regarding your activity level while you are in the hospital.  If you must remain in bed, your doctor may order compression boots (sleeves on your legs), which inflate and deflate to help keep blood flowing in your legs. Keep them on as directed by your doctor. This will help prevent blood clots from forming.  

    Most patients should also receive medication to thin your blood, which is used to prevent clots from forming.  When your doctor allows you to get out of bed, do so as much as you can tolerate.  Walking will help keep the blood in your vessels moving, making it less likely to clot.


Last UpdateDecember 2, 2011

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