Hospital Safety Checklists

August 19, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

An emergency admission to the hospital is one of the most harrowing experiences anyone can experience—often a matter of life or death.

But even an orderly, scheduled admission means patients and their caregivers have to deal with all sorts of medical and insurance information, provide and process all sorts of care and scheduling advisories, and so on.

It can be overwhelming—for patients and hospital staff alike.

In 2010, an American surgeon addressed that problem in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. As the title suggests, it presents a checklist-based methodology that takes hospital staff through regular, orderly steps when admitting, caring for, and discharging patients. It’s like what pilots do before takeoff.

The practice took hold in many hospitals—and hit a home run. Using checklists during surgery reduced deaths and surgical complications by more than 33 percent.

Now that same checklist idea has been adopted to help patients and caregivers better prepare for and understand what they’ll need before, during, and after a hospital stay.

Here’s a quick look at what your checklist should cover.

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Checklist: Choosing a hospital

You may not always have a choice of hospitals. Sometimes because of your health plan or doctor and sometimes because, in an emergency, it’s more important to find the closest one to you.

But if you have a choice, these questions can guide you to your best choice.

Is the hospital:

  • Accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations?
  • Rated highly by state, consumer, or other groups?
  • One where your doctor has privileges?
  • Covered by your health plan?
  • Experienced in treating your condition?
  • Successful in treating your condition?

Most hospitals agree to be surveyed by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), a U.S. non-profit organization that studies hospitals to ensure certain quality standards are met, including quality of staff and equipment, and success in helping patients.

JCAHO’s performance reports are free. You can get one by calling 630-792-5800.

Checklist: After admission

  1. Get the names of your primary hospital doctor and any specialists on your care team. Your primary physician will coordinate with the team, and your nurses will assist you during your stay.
  2. If they haven’t already, ask your physician to identify and explain your main diagnosis. Be open and honest about any and every concern you might have.
  3. Ask your nurse or physician how your condition is responding to treatment—and how you can participate in your own recovery. According to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons Patient’s Bill of Rights, you are entitled to such information and your care team is obligated to provide it.
  4. Ask your family, friends, or other trusted individuals to participate in helping with your recovery. They are a vital part of your treatment team.
  5. Talk to a hospital social worker if you have questions about insurance and billing. Their job is to ensure you know exactly what your insurance does and does not cover.
  6. Ask to see the nurse manager or charge nurse if you’re experiencing ongoing issues with care or communication about your condition. This person is responsible for helping patients and easing any misunderstanding or tensions that may arise during your stay.

Checklist: Pre-discharge

  1. As you approach discharge, make sure you know which, if any, medications, you should continue or discontinue. This information should be included in your discharge instructions.
  2. Ask the staff to show you and your caregivers how to do any prescribed procedures after you’ve left the hospital, especially jobs like changing a bandage or giving an injection that may require a special skill. Have the nurse or doctor watch you practice to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
  3. Ask if it’s safe to perform ordinary tasks alone, like bathing, dressing, driving, or exercising. Make sure you’ve arranged for help with any of these activities before you leave the hospital.
  4. Ask your nurse or physician if you need any equipment—a walker, a brace, or health monitor. If so, ask for help getting these items before you leave or soon after you get home.

Checklist: Discharge

  1. Ask the discharge nurse any questions you have about your discharge information. You should be provided with printed instructions. Make sure you understand them, and don’t leave without them.
  2. Ask about any follow-up appointments or additional testing.

Be prepared

I highly recommend thinking ahead about which hospital you might choose, if necessary, and about what your hospital visit might entail. It will make hospitalization and recovery much less stressful. That alone is the best medicine.

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