10 Steps to Increase Your Patient Safety Awareness

A national survey found that 1 in 5 people reportedly experienced a medical error in their own care and another third reported a medical error experienced by a close relative or friend. And nearly three quarters said that the mistake had a long-term or permanent impact.

What can you do to prevent you or a loved one becoming one of those statistics? Here are 10 steps you can take to increase your patient safety awareness from the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) — just in time for National Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 11-17, 2018).

For more information and downloads, visit the For Patients and Families section on the NPSF site.

1. Be a proactive patient.

Gather the information your doctor will need before you head out to your appointment. This includes your health history, medications you’re taking and any other relevant information. Take some time to think about when your symptoms started, what made your symptoms better or worse, or if your symptoms were related to taking medications, eating a meal, exercising, or a certain time of day.

(Read our 10 Ways to Describe Your Symptoms for tips and download our Medical Appointment Tracking Form to note your information.)

2. Ask about any tests or procedures the doctor has ordered.

  • What is the test for and what kind of preparation, if any, do you have to follow?
  • Are there any changes you need to make regarding medication, supplements or foods before you have the test?
  • Will you need someone to accompany you to the test?
  • When will the results be ready?

Also, make sure you request a copy of the test results for your own file.

3. Get the name of any medication (both generic and brand names) the doctor has ordered in writing.

Very often patients can read the doctor’s handwriting. In some offices, the orders are transmitted electronically so you may never even see the original order.

Ask what it’s for, the dosage amount and frequency, any potential interactions with foods or other medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) and indications of side effects.

4. Ask the doctor to explain how he arrived at the diagnosis.

Sometimes, medical professionals opt for the most likely cause of an illness, but that doesn’t always mean it is the correct cause. By discussing his reasoning, you can be sure he fully understand what your complaints are and that you haven’t overlooked anything that might have an impact on his diagnosis.

5. Double-check the medication at the pharmacy.

Check your notes about the name, dosage and frequency against what it on the bottle. Share details about all the medications and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, supplements and herbal remedies you take in case that changes the instructions for the new medication.

6. Confirm the patient information on file at the pharmacy.

This includes any allergies and/or drug intolerances. Share any recent changes in your health that could be relevant to your medical history—for example, if you were recently diagnosed with a health problem—as well as any upcoming tests.

7. Insist on good hygiene in every healthcare setting.

This includes the office, outpatient facility or in the hospital. Insist that all healthcare professionals wash their hands before examining you. (That goes for you, too!)

If you have a wound or incision, make sure you know how to care for it, and if you or whoever is caring for you should wear protective gloves.

8. Follow instructions.

This is especially important if you have been hospitalized or are currently undergoing outpatient treatment. Arrange for any support and follow-up care you may need and order any equipment or supplies ahead of time so everything is available.

If you have any activity restrictions, be sure you know what they are and for how long. Follow your medication instructions as ordered, and don’t stop taking it without checking with your doctor.

9. Share your information.

Make sure that all your healthcare providers (including your dentist and eye doctor) know about your health changes or diagnosis, surgeries, treatments and medications. Don’t assume that everyone knows everything.

10. Don’t be afraid to call.

Not feeling better or feeling worse? Have a new symptom? Remember something that you forgot to share at your appointment? Don’t be afraid to contact your healthcare professional or wait because you think (or hope) it might get better.

Better to share your concerns with your doctor than allow the situation to get worse.