Ensuring patient safety is a national priority, and everyone involved in the health care system has a role, including the patient. Patients can help make their health care experience safer by becoming active, involved and informed members of the health care team.
Research shows that patients who take part in decisions about their health care are more likely to have better outcomes. The more information patients have about health care, the better they can make decisions about what is best for them.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is committed to ensuring patient safety and decreasing medical errors. That's why AAOS developed its "Sign Your Site" initiative to prevent errors from occurring in the operating room, including surgery on the wrong site. A 2002 campaign by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services urges patients to "Speak Up" to prevent health care errors.
Your health is important! Speak up if you have questions or concerns, and ask questions if there is anything you don't understand. You have a right to know.
- Ask about safety. For example, if you're having surgery, ask the operating surgeon to mark the area that is to be operated upon with his or her initials on the day of surgery, so there's no confusion in the operating room.
- Tell the nurse if you're about to get the wrong medication, or if he or she has confused you with another patient.
Pay attention to the health care you receive. If something doesn't seem right, tell your doctor or another health care professional (i.e., nurse, technician, etc.). Make sure you get the right medications and treatments. Don't assume anything.
- Expect health care workers to introduce themselves to you. Look for their identification badges.
- Make sure health care professionals confirm your identity by checking your wristband or asking your name before giving you any medications or treatments.
- Notice whether your caregivers have washed their hands. Hand washing is the most important way to prevent the spread of infection.
- Know what time of day you usually get a medication. Tell your nurse or doctor if a regular medication is missed.
Ask your doctor to give you easy-to-read brochures or other patient-friendly literature so you can learn about your diagnosis, medical tests and treatment. Make sure you understand everything. If you don't understand something, keep asking questions until you do.
- Seek information about illnesses or conditions that affect you, options and possible treatment plans. Good sources of information include your doctor, libraries, medical society Web sites and support groups.
- Ask questions of your doctor, nurse, pharmacist and other health care professionals, and choose a doctor, clinic, pharmacy and hospital experienced in the type of care you require.
- Take notes when you talk with your doctor and ask him or her for written information.
- Thoroughly read all medical forms and make sure you understand everything before you sign.
- Become familiar with how to operate equipment used in your care.
- Never be afraid to seek more than one opinion. It is not an insult to your doctor. If you are unsure about the nature of your illness or the best treatment, consult one or two more specialists. Getting more information lets you be more confident in your decisions.
Consider involving a trusted family member or friend in your care. You may want an advocate to:
- Come with you to doctor appointments.
- Stay with you in the hospital.
- Ask questions of health care professionals.
- Review consent forms for treatment.
- Remember health care instructions for you.
- Know what to look for and who to call should your condition get worse.
- Speak up for you if you cannot.
- Know your wishes regarding resuscitation and life support.
Medication errors (i.e., wrong medication, wrong dosage) are the most common health care mistakes. Know the names and dosages of all medications you take, and why you take them.
- Tell doctors and nurses if you have any drug allergies.
- Ask your doctor for written information about your medications and any potential drug side effects.
- Make sure you can read your doctor's handwriting on prescriptions. If you cannot read it, ask that it be typed or printed so there is no confusion at a pharmacy. Review the prescribed dosage with your physician before getting a prescription filled.
- Follow your doctor's directions and take medication exactly as prescribed.
- If you are taking multiple medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to take the medications together. The same is true for vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter drugs. This is very important because in some cases there may be danger from cross-reactions. Please let your doctor know about everything you take.
- If you don't recognize a medication (i.e., it doesn't sound familiar or you never took it before), verify that it is really for you.
Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center or other health care organization that has undergone a rigorous on-site evaluation for compliance with established, state-of-the-art quality and safety standards, such as that provided by JCAHO.
- Ask your doctor which hospital offers the best care for your condition.
- Ask about the health care organization's experience in treating your type of illness or condition. How frequently do they perform the procedure you need? What specialized care do they provide?
You are the center of your health care team. Work with your doctor and other health care professionals, and participate in all decisions about your treatment.
- Keep records about your medical history and share up-to-date details with your medical team. Your medical history includes any medical conditions and illnesses; immunizations; allergies, reactions and sensitivities; hospitalizations; other doctors treating you; medications and dietary supplements (i.e., vitamins, herbal products).
- You and your doctor should agree about exactly what will be done during each step of your care.
- Know who will take care of you, how long treatment will last, and how you should feel.
- Ask to speak with other people who have undergone a procedure you are considering. They can help you prepare for what to expect and the best ways to recover.
Additional source of information: National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF).
This is a non-exhaustive list of potential additional resources. AAOS does not review or endorse accuracy or effectiveness of materials, treatments or physicians.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
6300 N. River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018