March 4 – 10 is Patient Safety Awareness Week, a subject near and dear to my heart. The subject reached the radar screen after a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported that over 100,000 people in the U.S. die each year from preventable medical mistakes. Many of these mistakes were due to medication errors, hospital infections and “systems errors” which is a polite way of saying the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy was written as a guide to improve pregnancy outcomes. I wanted to help women take home a healthy baby by avoiding all of the preventable mistakes that are regretfully made in labor rooms and clinics. No one wants to witness or be a victim of “mistakes” that could have been avoided if people were paying attention. Imperfection is a way of life yet in healthcare it is unforgiving.

As a result of the IOM’s report, hospitals and healthcare organizations have made patient safety a national and international priority. Checklists, medication bar codes and infection control committees have emerged in many hospitals, but patients must also get involved. The federal government has a started a campaign entitled “Questions Are the Answer” that encourages patients to ask their physicians or healthcare providers questions about their healthcare. Pregnant women over 35, African Americans and Medicaid recipients face the greatest risk for medical mistakes and complications. However, there are things one can do to minimize risks.

  • If your blood type is Rh Negative, make sure you are given all test results, including an antibody screen
  • Ask what your vital signs are at each prenatal visit to rule out high blood pressure
  • Ask for a high-risk consult with a specialist if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma
  • Pay attention to fetal movement
  • Ask about all lab results, especially your diabetes test
  • Ask whether your midwife or obstetrician knows how to manage a shoulder dystocia
  • If you’re hospitalized for pre-eclampsia and someone wants to send you home before having your baby, ask for a second opinion, preferably with a high risk physician

Please be pro-active regarding your prenatal care. Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.