Lisa’s Turn: Learning About “Hospital Drift” Is Eye-Opening

Honored to have been selected to serve a one-year term in 2013 on the inaugural Patient Safety Committee at a major Los Angles medical center, my eyes have been opened in a way I never could have imagined.  After spending literally 2,000 plus hours with clients in hospitals, I never knew before recently just how a hospital operates as a collective group of many different kinds of healthcare professionals.

Whether a hospitalized patient is being treated by a physician, nurse, clinical partner, physical or breathing therapist (the list continues) there is a well-documented phenomenon that occurs in all hospitals, regardless of reputation, that has made me stop and look at hospital care in a different light.  It also reinforces my strong belief no one hospitalized should be left alone, not ever, because unwanted consequences of being hospitalized can occur without warning.

I’ve learned about a common occurrence hospitals battle with constantly.  It’s known as “hospital drift,” which simply means in any hospital, at any time, the care a patient receives can easily drift from what is expected to what actually occurs when medical professionals, all human beings, fall victim to subconsciously veering off the path of what is safe, standard care.  Next thing you know, a patient’s care has literally drifted off course.  The consequences can range from minor to catastrophic.

An example would be a hospital worker forgetting to sanitize his/her hands with antibacterial gel whenever entering or leaving a patient’s room.  Just one episode of unintentional forgetfulness, and a group of germs is carried either in or out of a hospital room, exposing unintended and unknowing people to those germs.  The germ could be a simple or complex one, but it doesn’t matter.  A germ is a germ, and exposure even one of them is something to be avoided.

More serious consequences can result when hospital drift occurs in an operating room.  A patient on an operating table, unconscious from anesthesia, would not be able to see a small tear in a hospital glove being worn by a doctor whose hand is being placed inside that patient’s body.  The surgeon could have a minor skin infection which could pass into the patient’s body through the glove tear.  The end result could be a patient being infected during his/her operation.  No hospital staff member ever intends to “drift,” but these people are human, and no human being is perfect.

Patient advocates cannot be perfect either, but can serve as an additional layer of insurance for a client/patient by observing the hospital care that client/patient is receiving.  Assuming a client/patient signs a HIPAA release, a patient advocate has legal access to ALL hospital records for their client.  Knowing how to read a hospital chart doesn’t require a medical or nursing degree, nor does paying close attention to the behavior of medical staff.  An advocate with a general understanding of medical care and his/her client’s condition and corresponding plan of care, combined with attention to detail and a vigilant approach, can go far in protecting his/her client from the unintended consequences of hospital drift.

Bottom line:  When hospitalized, protect yourself.  Consider adding insurance in the form of an educated patient healthcare advocate.  Your advocate could protect you in ways you couldn’t even imagine.

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