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Helping to Deliver Better Care: How One Experience Changed My Life

My life has changed completely as a result of my hospital experience.

In 2006, I wasn’t a doctor…but I played one on TV. In fact I played lots of people on TV, and in commercials. After years of hard work to break into the entertainment industry, I was living my dream. I didn’t think anything could bring me down, especially not routine uterine fibroid surgery. I can still hear my doctor praising me for completing the LA Marathon and being in the best shape of any patient he’d had. “You’ll be out of the hospital within two days,” he assured me.

But he was wrong. I almost didn’t leave the hospital alive.

Almost immediately following surgery, I started showing signs of sepsis: fever, vomiting and worsening pain. During a dressing change, my mother noticed a black dot near my incision. A nurse insisted it was nothing but finally agreed to notify the doctor. The doctor could see immediately that the fast-growing infection was bad news. He operated at the bedside to open and drain my swollen abdomen. Days later, I was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – commonly known as man-eating flesh disease. The rapid spread led to five more operations cutting away at my abdomen, hip and groin.

I had contracted a preventable hospital-acquired infection (HAI). While necrotizing fasciitis was the big one, I was also treated for several superbugs, including MRSA, VRE and C-Diff, all life-threatening bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Almost 10 years later, I’m still recovering. I don’t go anywhere without my hip brace, heating patches and pain killers. Besides the physical pain, there’s been emotional pain no one prepared me for. After a scene showing surgery lights from the patient’s point of view, I had to stop watching my favorite TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. It was too close to home.

Alicia Cole with President Obama

My life has changed completely as a result of my hospital experience. Thankfully, improvements to our health care system are happening right now to prevent anyone else from going through what I did.

I’m proud to have worked with Partnership for Patients, a public-private initiative under the Affordable Care Act that is aimed at improving the quality, safety and affordability of health care by increasing meaningful patient and family engagement and providing the tools and assistance hospitals need to increase patient safety and reduce harm.

Partnership for Patients and other coalitions and programs from across government, private, and nonprofit sectors, are working to build a better, smarter system that keeps people healthy. They’re building a system that puts us patients in the center of our care, and encourages coordination among providers and incentives to promote value of care over volume, as well as identifies solutions to promote hospital safety and gives both health care professionals and consumers more information for better informed decisions.

Thanks to improvements made to our health care system, prompted in part by the Affordable Care Act, hospital-acquired infections and other medical harms have declined between 2010 and 2013. As a result, we’ve saved an estimated $12 billion in costs, and more importantly, 50,000 lives.

To continue and build on this progress, we all need to work together – patients, advocates, families and providers – to build a healthier, smarter health care system.  We can do it with the new tools, initiatives and rewards for keeping people healthy.

While I wasn’t able to return to acting, I went back to school and earned a Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Management and Leadership from UCLA. My goal is to be able to better communicate and collaborate with policy makers and hospital administrators to create change. I want to be part of the solution and I’m excited about the start we’ve gotten so far.

You can’t imagine what Alicia went through in one hospital experience, and what she is doing now because of it:


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