Getting out of the hospital doesn’t always mean you’re out of the woods

After a stint in the hospital, being discharged can be the best day you’ve had in a long time.

And if you’re one of many patients who don’t go right home, but to a rehab hospital, that’s okay, too. It means you’re on the road to recovery and home is just around the corner.

Or, that’s what it should mean.

But for a lot of patients, that’s not the case. Some will never even make it out alive.

A new federal study of Medicare patients found that around one in three will suffer a “harm” (including “death”) during a stay in a rehab hospital.

That’s why it’s never been more urgent to take some simple steps that could save you, or someone you love.

‘First, do no harm’

Being sent to a rehab hospital should be just that — rehabilitation — not the beginning of more trouble.

Yet for many patients, some in excellent health, the outcome of rehab can be worse than what sent them there in the first place.

A consumer advocate tells the story of a close friend in “great health” who had successful knee surgery. She was quickly discharged to a rehab hospital for therapy, but during her “recovery” one mistake led to another, turning a “routine surgery” into a death sentence.

We know how frequently medical mistakes happen in hospitals. Just a short time ago I told you about a report from Johns Hopkins finding that medical errors kill over a quarter of a million people a year. And even that astonishing figure was said to be just the tip of the iceberg.

But rehab seems somehow safer. After all, you’ve already been through the worst of it, now it’s time for physical therapy and some much needed rest and relaxation.

Well, don’t count on it.

“If the first rule of health care is ‘Do no harm,’ then we’re failing,” said Dr. David Classen, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine, about this recent report.

The study, done by the National Institutes of Health, looked at over 400 Medicare patients who were discharged from a rehab hospital in 2012. Close to 30 percent suffered “harms” according to the report — many of which were severe enough to land a quarter of those patients right back in an acute care hospital.

And one of the most heartbreaking parts is that the doctors who carefully reviewed this data discovered that almost half of these “harms,” such as medication errors, falls and infections, were “clearly or likely preventable.”

Can you believe it? It’s as if all these mistakes are now the norm.

It’s obvious that we’ve got to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves and family members. Just because you’ve “graduated” to rehab, doesn’t mean you can let your guard down

So here are three important things to remember:

  1. Check medications: Many of the mistakes found in the NIH study involved medication errors. Make sure you’re getting exactly what you expected and at the dose you expected.
  2. Ask questions: Another frequent finding was that patients in rehab weren’t receiving required treatments. If something seems missing from your care, speak up. There are no bad questions when it comes to your health and recovery.
  3. Have an advocate: Even if you’re over the hump of whatever put you in the hospital, it’s difficult to be on top of everything when you’re still recovering. That’s where a good friend or family member who knows about your situation, including meds and therapy, can literally be a lifesaver.

“Rehab hospitals may harm a third of patients, report finds” Marshall Allen, July 21, 2016, NPR,