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Hospital stays expose patients to harms and medical errors

Few people, including Pennsylvanians, look forward to a hospital stay. If it means medical treatment that will improve their own or a loved one's well-being, however, they are more willing to accept a stay if they feel the hospital and medical staff are qualified and competent. Unfortunately, time in the hospital can have negative results for a patient's health for a few reasons.

First, a hospital stay can result in psychological harm. Hospital operations continue around the clock every day of the year. Most patients' sleeping patterns are disrupted, and sedative medications are often used -- the combination can affect a patient's mental status after only a few days.

Second, a hospital stay can exposure a patient to injuries and illnesses. Commonly used narcotics and sedatives can cause confusion and a loss of balance in a patient. One study found that sedated patients are three times more likely to fall during a hospital stay. In addition, patients who stay in bed for long periods suffer muscle weakness and are more likely to sustain stiffened joints and fractures. Longer stays also mean more exposure to harmful bacteria that have developed resistance to even the most potent antibiotics.

Third, medical error is one of the leading causes of death among patients who stay in hospitals. Aside from surgical and medication errors, simple negligence -- such as medical staff members' failure to wash their hands -- can compromise a patient's health.

Fourth, hospital stays can sometimes cause problems after discharge; an illness or worsened condition following hospitalization can follow from any of the problems already noted -- even if the patient is deemed treated and ready for release. If negligence on the part of a hospital or its medical staff results in injuries, a victim should seek compensation to recover damages by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: Forbes, "4 Ways Hospitals Can Harm You," Robert Paul, Jan. 24, 2014

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