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Patient Safety Expert Urges Patients to Beware of Errors

A decade after her son died in a South Carolina hospital, Helen Haskell is still advocating for patient safety.

Her son was Lewis Blackman, a 15-year-old boy who went into the hospital for elective surgery to correct a heart defect. He died after medical staff failed to respond to a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding caused by a medication.

Medication errors are bad enough. But not responding to a patient clearly in distress is unconscionable.

In 2005, the South Carolina legislature passed patient safety legislation mandating that hospital patients must be given information on how to contact a doctor or get other help. The Lewis Blackman Patient Safety Act is still on the books in South Carolina.

Today, Lewis' mother, Helen Haskell, is taking her message of patient advocacy to other states as well. She has founded a nonprofit group called Mothers Against Medical Error to help spread her message.

Haskell encourages hospital patients to have a survival plan to navigate the healthcare system. She believes that this system is still plagued with common errors and preventable bad outcomes.

For example, she recommends that patients and their families become familiar with the hospital chain-of-command. Becoming informed about the reporting structure that doctors and nurses are part of can become an essential part of patient advocacy, especially if a given staff member fails to recognize a problem.

It's important as well to check the name badges of the providers moving in and out of a room.

Patients or patient advocates should also get copies of the medical records and be sure to review them.

Source: "A patient survival guide, from a mother who learned too late," Arielle Levin Becker, CT Mirror, 3-8-12

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