June is National Safety Month – How Safe Are You?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 5:12 | Filled in Personal Responsibility

Today, I have asked a colleague of mine to submit a guest post. Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, is a health writer who started her professional life as a registered nurse. She is passionate about helping people learn about medical and health issues in a way that anyone can understand.

Marijke writes for many print and online outlets and works with organizations such as Sepsis Alliance (SepsisAlliance.org), a not-for-profit patient advocacy group. Her blog, Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer (http://medhealthwriter.blogspot.com) is where she mixes fun and serious health issues.


June is National Safety Month – How Safe Are You?

Health care: two words that can get the most passive of people riled up. Health care is very political and personal. We have our beliefs on how it should be delivered and while we may differ and be on opposite ends of the spectrum, most of us agree that we do need to have access to healthcare professionals when we’re sick or injured. But what about preventing that need in the first place? June is National Safety Month in the United States and healthcare professionals use this time to try to raise awareness of the preventable injuries and deaths that occur each year.

According to the National Safety Council, “Unintentional deaths reached an estimated 128,200 in 2009. The 2009 estimate – the highest on record – is 47 percent greater than the 1992 total of 86,777 – the lowest annual total since 1924. The cost of unintentional injuries to Americans and their employers exceeds $693 billion nationally, or $5,900 per household.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that falls are the second leading cause of accidental death. While not all falls are preventable, so many are. A fall that may have just been painful and annoying when we were younger, can lead to disability or even death as we age (Broken hips in the elderly can lead to death).

Falls within the healthcare system

Falls don’t just occur at home or in the community – they also happen in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and long-term care facilities. A study in 2010 determined that every year, approximately one million patients fall within healthcare facilities in the United States.

Are these falls preventable? Not all could be prevented but many can be avoided by taking some simple measures. Even visitors can help keep patients safer by being aware of these fall prevention techniques:

Keep necessary items within reach. Telephones, tissues, call bells, anything that may be needed should be easily reached on the bedside or overbed table.

All wheels on moveable furniture should be locked. People often use overbed tables or wheelchairs for stability. This is not safe.

Wheelchair brakes should be on at all times when not in movement. Getting in and out of a wheelchair can be dangerous. Always ensure the brakes are on when the chair isn’t being moved to prevent these types of falls.

All obstacles should be removed from the room. Extra equipment, such as IV poles not in use, should be removed as soon as possible to reduce clutter. Furniture moved to the walls to prevent bumps.

All spills must be wiped up immediately to prevent slips.

Lighting must be adequate at night.

Footwear must be stable and with slip guards. Sandals and flip-flop type slippers are not safe.

Beds should be lowered as much as possible. The high beds that are necessary for healthcare professionals to provide safe care must be lowered when they are not in use. Patients should be as low to the ground as is possible.

No restraints when possible. This can be controversial, but restraints, ways to tie or keep patients in bed can actually increase the risk of falls. Patients who try to climb over side rails or the end of the bed will fall harder than if they were just trying to get out of bed normally. Patients who are tied down with restraints can (and often do) become more agitated and can cause injury to themselves.

Patients should be walked or helped out of bed regularly. Patients who are given the opportunity to exercise may be less agitated and not try as hard to get out of bed when alone.

Patients shouldn’t be left in chairs for too long. Staff or visitors may help patients get out of bed to sit in a chair, but if they sit for too long, the patients may try to get back into bed themselves.


These are just a few fall-prevention techniques and while they may seem simple enough, they don’t happen often enough.

Being an empowered healthcare consumer not only means knowing how to take care of yourself and to obtain proper health care, it also means taking action to prevent injuries for both you and the people you care about. Be proactive and stay safe.


Do You Eat? Take Meds? Then You Need the Food Drug Interaction Guide

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 17:22 | Filled in Personal Responsibility

The Food and Drug Administration Consumer Education About Medicine program publishes a guide to help consumers avoid harmful interactions between the medicines they take and the food they eat or beverages they drink:

Avoid Food-Drug Interactions-A Guide

Many drugs are listed by name, categorized by what conditions they are prescribed for: allergies/asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular conditions, gastroesophageal reflux, Infections, osteoporosis, etc.

I was chagrined to learn that, as someone who takes medication for hypothyroidism, I should avoid walnuts. This is the first time I had been warned to avoid this favorite add-in to my morning yogurt, at least until several hours after I take my Synthroid.

June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 16:13 | Filled in Announcements

Photo credit: Joana Roja/Flickr

Have you ever watched from inside your body as your vision got rainbow-edged blurry and then narrowed down to a pinpoint so you feared you were going blind? That’s what my migraine aura feels like. And, I am not alone – there are 37 million people in the U.S. who get migraines, too.


Every June, the National Headache foundation sponsors educational activities for migraineuses (females who get migraines; males are called migraineurs), family, and friends. First up – a webinar about chronic migraine being given tomorrow, June 5, 2013, by George Nissan, Doctor of Osteopathy. Free registration at: http://www.headaches.org/content/nhf-webinars.


Upcoming webinars include “Headache Myths” and “Post Traumatic Headache in Students” (June 19). Previous webinars are either archived or have transcripts available on the same page.


The best thing about Migraine and Headache Awareness Month? They chose purple as their color – my favorite! So, this month, show purple and show support!



Leonard Neff (my dad), the original empowered health care consumer

Monday, June 3, 2013 19:39 | Filled in Personal Responsibility

My father, Leonard Neff,  the original empowered health care consumer, died 7 years ago of pancreatic cancer. But he successfully fought, and won, against previous diagnoses of lung cancer and prostate cancer.

Despite being a physician who should have known better, Dad wasn’t so great at taking care of his own health in some ways. He could not, or would not, quit smoking — thus, the lung cancer. He never met a dessert he didn’t like, or a gym that he did, until he discovered water aerobics late in life — about age 75.

But he knew how to navigate the health system. When I developed crossed eyes as a toddler, I was whisked into an operating room as soon as I was old enough to tolerate general anesthesia. When my sisters and I had developed one too many sore throats, we were scheduled for tonsillectomies, as was routine in 1961. The hospital administrator insisted we stay overnight — my father insisted that we would be recovering at home that night. Voila! Outpatient surgery for the first time ever in Westchester County, New York, years before it became the norm for many operations.

When my great aunt Esther developed a mysterious cancer whose source no one could identify, her doctor at the HMO insisted she have surgery. But Esther was 90 years old at the time and dad felt that surgery was too risky. So he insisted she see another specialist outside of the HMO system to, and pay for it out of pocket. The new doctor agreed with dad, and Esther received radiation therapy instead. She experienced a better quality of life with the time she had left than she would have if she’d been bedbound, recovering from surgery.

My father was a product of his times, a man who loved his work and made his patients his first priority, often when I wished he would choose his family first. But while he lived, I learned some powerful lessons from him about getting the health care you deserve.

National Cancer Survivors’ Day 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013 13:44 | Filled in Announcements

Today, 14 million American cancer survivors are celebrating that they are living full, productive, and joyful lives after being treated for cancer. Here’s my shout-out to family members and friends who are living fulfilling lives as cancer survivors:

My mom, Essie Neff (breast cancer); her brother, Isaiah Share (salivary gland cancer); my cousin Tracy Porter (brain cancer); my husband’s cousin Teddie Baer Tippetts (ovarian cancer); and my friends: Evelyn Harris (colon cancer); Susan Carrier (lymphoma); Susan Hedrick (breast cancer); Barbara Saldinger (bladder cancer); Elaine Jesmer (breast cancer); Nannie Collins (ovarian cancer); Charles Shotland (lymphoma).

And a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Vincent Hung of Pasadena, who removed a basal cell carcinoma from my face in 2011, leaving a dueling scar that you can barely see.

Be Prepared: Before You Enter the Hospital

Saturday, June 1, 2013 7:00 | Filled in Books, Personal Responsibility

If you are scheduled to go into the hospital in the near future, I recommend that you read this brochure before you go: Taking Care of Myself: A Guide for When I Leave the Hospital. Learn to care for yourself after returning home from the hospital and reduce the risk that you’ll need to be re-hospitalized.

This well designed patient education piece is available as a pdf that permits filling in the blanks using your own computer. You can list what medicines to take, the dosage, and when to take them; your doctor’s name and contact information; and your follow-up appointments. There is also space for entering the questions you think of while you wait for your next appointment. Alternatively, you can order a printed brochure by mail. All in all, far more useful and simply written than the boring, jargon heavy discharge brochure I was given after my last hospitalization.

This piece was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Download the brochure here: http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/goinghomeguide.htm


Don’t Go Bare!

Friday, May 18, 2012 16:23 | Filled in Payment

Photo credit: Paul Delardeau/Flickr.

Any Californian who has been denied health insurance because of a medical condition, as I have, should read up on the federal pre-existing condition insurance plan. This plan was developed as part of the Affordable Care Act passed on March 23, 2010.


The plan went live in August, 2010 and covers visits with primary care doctors and specialists, hospital care, and prescription drugs. To be eligible, you must be a citizen or legal resident of the US, and you must have been uninsured for at least the last six months before you apply. This means that Californians who are currently covered by the State’s High Risk Pool are not eligible. The premiums for a single person are generally much lower than the $817 per month I was paying when I was covered by the State’s High Risk Pool. The $1500 deductible is similar, but the new plan includes a $2500 out of pocket annual limit.


To get a brochure that describes the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and compares it to California’s existing high risk plan, and an application form, click on: www.mrmib.ca.gov. To request an application by email, send your name and mailing address to FHRP@mrmib.ca.gov. There’s also a snail mail address available at the web site.


Sure, health insurance is expensive. But don’t go bare – that is, ie don’t go without health insurance. A hospital stay – think skateboard, bike, or freeway accident – is even pricier.



Staying Healthy While Traveling

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 16:34 | Filled in Personal Responsibility

I’m about to leave for points East to attend a conference. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the mother ship for us epidemiologists) provided a useful article about staying healthy while traveling.

Sure wish I’d known about this before I left for Japan last year to visit my daughter (luckily, she came through the recent earthquake/tsunami/radiation unscathed). Guess who didn’t know that paper towels do not exist in Japan and everyone carries their own fabric handkerchief/mini-towel? Guess who forgot the hand sanitizer? Guess who picked up a nasty cold while abroad?

Safety First: Patient Safety Awareness Week 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 18:21 | Filled in Announcements, Personal Responsibility

I’m sorry that I missed notifying you about Patient Safety Awareness Week 2010, which was 2 weeks ago. PSAW is a national education and awareness-building campaign for improving patient safety at the local level. The theme this year was “Let’s Talk: Healthy Conversations for Safer Healthcare.”

The National Patient Safety Foundation, which sponsors PSAW, offers members some patient engagement tools that include fact sheets and checklists to ensure being safe when getting medical care.

Check their Patient Safety Tools and Resources here: http://www.npsf.org/hp/psaw/patient-tools-and-resources.php

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has a wide array of free materials in print, podcast, and video form to educate consumers in how to be safe in the health care system.

Check the Getting Safer Care page at: http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/safety.html

Free H1N1 flu shot clinic in Glendale, CA

Monday, November 2, 2009 11:43 | Filled in Payment

For those of you who live in the Glendale, California area: The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services is sponsoring a free H1N1 influenza vaccination clinic for high risk individuals tomorrow. Eligible individuals include pregnant women, children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years, health-care workers, people who care for infants, and people between 25 to 64 with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease.

Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Time: are 9:30 am – 3:30 pm

Place: Glendale Civic Auditorium, 1401 N. Verdugo Road

I’ll be there volunteering in the morning. Look out for me — I’ll be wearing my green CERT vest!