Seeing as though today is the final day of Patient Safety Awareness Week, I thought this would be the perfect time to present my review of a highly acclaimed book on patient safety and healthcare. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a pretty avid reader. I will read just about anything and everything, just as long as it appeals to my emotions and/or experiences at any given time. Given that my life currently consists of ongoing medical appointments and other healthcare management tasks, most of the supplemental reading I’ve been doing over the last few years (outside of assigned reading for school and keeping up with pertinent medical journals) has primarily consisted of self-help books relating to chronic illness, psychology, and navigating the medical system. So, when I was given the opportunity to review Your Patient Safety Survival Guide: How to Protect Yourself and Others from Medical Errors by Gretchen LeFever Watson, I was extremely elated. Although I had originally planned to take advantage of this opportunity during winter break from school since I knew that I would be recovering from a total hysterectomy and would be looking for things to do while stuck in bed, I am honestly kicking myself for not clearing some time in my schedule prior to surgery because I could have really used this information before my own patient safety was put at risk.
For those of you who are unaware, I was scheduled to have a total hysterectomy on December 8, 2017, using the da Vinci Robotic method in order to rectify the excessive and erratic bleeding that started as a result of complications from late-onset endometrial ablation failure following my NovaSure procedure in 2015. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a “minimally invasive” procedure with “minimal scarring” and a “quick recovery period” turned into this mess…
… but I will go into more details of this tragic event at a later time. Needless to say, it would have been far more helpful to have read this book before I actually needed the helpful tips supplied in the pages of Your Patient Safety Survival Guide.
The first thing I want to mention before reviewing the content of this novel is that I found myself drawn to this book simply because the author’s personal and professional background intrigued me. From a professional standpoint, Dr. Gretchen LeFever Watson holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has held a variety of training and leadership positions in hospitals and community-based healthcare programs. Not only has she received numerous awards and grants for her research, but her work has also generated a great deal of media attention and recognition from other subject matter experts in the fields of psychology and healthcare as well (Watson, 2017). This is in addition to publishing two other patient safety books along with Your Patient Safety Guide and several peer-reviewed research papers. Considering that the author is clearly well-versed and has a long-standing history of working within both the past and current structure of the American medical system, I knew she would offer a great deal of insight from the professional side of health care. The fact that Dr. Watson has also been an advocate for patient safety and wellness from personal experiences as both a caregiver for her mother and as a parent when a medical error almost took her daughter’s life at the young age of only four-years-old made me think that her opinions would likely represent a more balanced perspective overall (Watson, 2017). As someone with multiple chronic and rare conditions, and a student studying for a degree in clinical psychology that has also spent many years working in veterinary medicine prior to disability myself, I was definitely interested in reading her perspective on some of the issues currently plaguing the safety and care of patients. Thankfully, this book did not disappoint.
Aside from the fact that each chapter of Your Patient Safety Survival Guide covered a wide breadth of obstacles in receiving adequate medical care (e.g., safety habits and best practices, avoidance of medication errors and overprescription of dangerous medications, and the prevention of infections and common medical injuries that can occur as a result of human error, negligence, malpractice, and purely bad luck), the thing that I liked most about this book is that every topic discussed in the text provides readers with an eclectic explanation illustrated through research statistics and patient examples. Chapter 1, for instance, notes some shocking statistics that suggest “at least 440,000 patients die needless deaths in US hospitals each year” and the “initial estimate of the financial impact of the patient safety crisis indicated it totaled around $5 billion annually, about one-quarter of which involves out-of-pocket expenses” (Watson, 2017, p. 7-8). While these numbers are obviously alarming, the author prevents hysteria or anxiety over such occurrences by putting the situation into a more realistic perspective by detailing the potentials causes of medical error and offering ways to combat it as either a patient receiving care or professional providing care. In this way, the author is avoiding labeling the problem according to a single source but rather a complex, systematic problem that can result in an infinite number of breakdowns within the medical system itself. Personally, I find this account refreshing because it first acknowledges the problem, without placing blame on either the patient or medical professionals specifically, and then it explains the how and why medical errors happen. It also makes it easier for the reader to accept the information before the author moves on to discuss her own recommendations and potential solutions for resolving the problem at hand. Nevertheless, one factor that distinguishes this book from many other patients and/or chronic illness texts is that Dr. Watson wrote the content of this book to equally address a combined audience of both patients (or their family members) and medical professionals alike.
Another important element of Your Patient Safety Survival Guide that I found relatively helpful is that each chapter presents the reader with either a tool that can help them measure and target goals relating to different variables of patient safety or an action plan that can minimize the potential for common medical mistakes. Although most of the tools and guidelines presented in this book are based on logic and common sense, I can personally attest to how easy it is to forget even the simplest of things, especially when you’re anxious about an upcoming surgery or procedure, concerned as to whether the physician will take your medical complaints seriously or not, or you’re just simply distracted by pain or other symptoms. In these cases, simpler is almost always going to be better in the long run anyways, although some of the planning tools and safety tips were also new to me as well. Still, the biggest takeaway that I got from reading this book came from the seventh and final chapter entitled Acceptance, Apology, and Forgiveness: Safeguard the Lives of Patients and Healthcare Providers. One of the reasons that this specific chapter stood out to me the most is that the end of this book overly emphasizes the fact the doctors and other healthcare providers are only human and, therefore, they’re liable to make mistakes just like anyone else. As Watson (2017) points out, “we all make errors. Our errors rarely result from the willful disregard for others. Factors beyond the control of providers often influence the emergence of error, and, when errors occur, providers are often in need of compassion – just like event’s primary victims” (p. 140-141).
With my own significant complications resulting from a major medical error fresh on my mind, the stories and information shared within these final pages clearly hit too close for comfort on a number of occasions. In many ways, it would have been easier to blame the surgeon and his support staff who performed my hysterectomy for everything. Lord knows that I had plenty of good reasons to rightly justify my anger and hatred over the situation, but what good would that have done in the end? Being angry about it wouldn’t make me feel better or allow me to heal any faster; yelling at the doctors and the hospital staff also wouldn’t prevent similar mistakes from happening to other patients in the future. Though it’s far more comfortable to blame the doctor when things don’t go as planned, it’s equally as hard to accept that it’s rare for patients to consider the harm we inflict on medical providers by establishing unrealistic expectations regarding our health care wants or needs. This is another reason why I really enjoyed reading this chapter because I liked that Watson (2017) discusses both the physiological and psychological impact that medical errors have on both the patient and their families, as well as the significant damage and stress that these faults can have on healthcare providers and facilities. Once again, it’s easy to forget that doctors and their support staff already feel the train and the pressure simply from completing the tasks they were trained to do in the first place. On the other hand, there will always be those few providers who tend to forget that patients are also human and just as fallible as they are themselves. Watson (2017) describes the apparent divide amongst patients and professionals best by suggesting that the biggest flaw in the wake of a major medical error or mistake occurs when the lines of communications are closed off, such as when full disclosure about the nature of the error is avoided in order to favor one’s pride instead.
In the end, there really isn’t too much more one could ask for in a single book regarding patient safety and healthcare, but if I had to choose one thing to criticize about any part of this book it would have to do with the fact that some of the chapters offer a rather viewpoint on the use and/or abuse of stimulants and opioids for managing chronic symptoms or pain. However, this is just my personal perspective based on taking these (or similar) drugs in order to manage my own symptoms either in the past or present, in addition to considering alternative opinions from other chronic illness patients who have also dealt with the medical system for an expansive period of time as well. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s personal and professional opinions as deliberated throughout Your Patient Safety Survival Guide, I still respect and appreciate the author’s judgments on these topics as she does support her logic using mainstream facts and theories regarding these types of medications. I am also very much appreciative of Dr. Watson’s willingness to devise solutions to the problems in healthcare and patient safety rather than focusing on the inadequacies of the system alone. I really do believe that this book – and Dr. Watson’s research and safety initiatives for patient care – will prove beneficial for anyone engaging in any part of the medical system to some degree. More importantly, I would highly recommend this book to anyone managing a chronic or rare disease since we are among the most vulnerable population of victims exposed to potential medical mishaps as we are routinely asked to put our faith, trust, and livelihood in the hands of practitioners of medicine.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Your Patient Safety Survival Guide: How to Protect Yourself and Others from Medical Errors, please visit one of the following online retailers:
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Cleveland Clinic (2018). Hysterectomy: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/4852-hysterectomy-what-you-need-to-know.
Drugwatch (2018). Da Vinci Surgical System. Retrieved from https://www.drugwatch.com/davinci-surgery/
Good Reads (2016). Gretchen LeFever Watson. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15244917.Gretchen_Lefever_Watson.
Watson, G. L. (2017). Your Patient Safety Survival Guide: How to Protect Yourself and Others from Medical Errors (1st ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Wortman, M. (2017). Late-onset endometrial ablation failure. Case Reports in Women’s Health, 15, 11-28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crwh.2017.07.001.