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Patient Safety Tips

It's your body. You have a right to know.
If you don't understand something your doctor, nurse, or health care professional tells you, don't be afraid to ask again. Your health is too important to feel embarrassed. And sometimes health care professionals forget that patients may not be familiar with large medical words.

If you're having surgery, your doctor will mark the area that will be operated on so that there's no confusion. Be alert, and make sure it is the correct site.

Ask what kind of medication you are being given. Tell your nurse or doctor if you think you are about to receive the wrong medication.

Patients often have similar names or health conditions. If you think the health care professional has you confused with another patient, don't hesitate to speak up.

Don't assume anything.
To make sure you are getting the right treatments and medications by the right health care professionals, tell your nurse or doctor if something doesn't seem quite right.

Expect health care workers to introduce themselves when they enter your room. Look for their identification badge. If you are unsure, ask.

Notice whether your caregivers have washed their hands or used sanitizing solution. This is the most important way to prevent the spread of infections. Don't be afraid to remind a doctor or nurse to do this.

Make sure your nurse or doctor confirms your identity before he or she administers any medication or treatment.

Educate yourself.
Ask your doctor about the specialized training and experience that qualifies him or her to treat your illness.

Gather information about your condition. Your doctor can also provide you with information.

Write down important facts your doctor tells you so you can look for additional information later. Ask if he or she has any written information you can keep.

Thoroughly read all medical forms and make sure you understand them before you sign them. Ask for clarification if you need it.

Make sure you are familiar with the operation of any equipment that you will be using, whether in the hospital or at home. For example, if you will be using oxygen at home, do not smoke or allow anyone to smoke near you while oxygen is in use.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.
Your advocate can ask questions that you may not think of while you are under stress. Ask this person to participate in your care during your visit. They can help make sure you get the right medications and treatment. Your advocate can also remember answers to questions you have asked, and speak up for you if you cannot.

Make sure this person understands your preferences for your care and your wishes concerning hospitalization, life support, and resuscitation. Review consent forms together before you sign them, and make sure you both understand exactly what you are signing. Your advocate should also understand the type of care you will need when you get home. Make sure your advocate knows what to look for if your condition is getting worse and whom to call for help.

Know what medications you take and why you take them. Medication errors are the most common health care mistakes.
Ask about the purpose of the medication and ask for written information about it, including its brand and generic names. Also inquire about the side effects of the medication.

If you do not recognize a medication, verify that it is for you. Ask about oral medications before swallowing, and read the contents of bags of intravenous (IV) fluids. If you're not well enough to do this, ask your advocate for their assistance.

If you are given an IV, ask the nurse how long it should take for the liquid to "run out." Tell the nurse if it doesn't seem to be dripping properly, whether too fast or too slow.

Tell your doctors and nurses about allergies you have, or negative reactions you have had to medications in the past.

If you are taking multiple medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to take those medications together. This holds true for vitamins, herbal supplements, and over-the-counter drugs, too.

Make sure you can read the handwriting on any prescriptions written by your doctor. If you can't read it, the pharmacist may not be able to either.

Participate in all decisions about your treatment. You are the center of the health care team.
You and your doctor should agree on exactly what will be done during each step of your care. Know who will be taking care of you, how long the treatment will last, and how you should feel.

Understand that more tests or medications may not always be better. Ask your doctor what a new test or medication is likely to achieve.

Keep a current list of your medications and share the list with your health care team. Also, keep copies of your medical records from previous health care treatments and share them with your health care team. They will give them a more complete picture of your health history.

Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion. If you are unsure about the nature of your illness and the best treatment, consult with one or two additional specialists. The more information you have about the options available to you, the more confident you will be in the decisions made.

Ask to speak others who have undergone the procedure you are considering. These individuals can help you prepare for the days and weeks ahead. They also can tell you what to expect and what worked best for them.


Watch this video on ways you can participate in your safety.