Health Care Safety Begins With Personal Preference and Self-Determination
Across the country, health care organizations, caregivers, physicians, health care professionals, and even family members, continue to make health care safety a priority. So, what is your role as the patient? Simply put, you play a pivotal role in the decision-making process of the safety of your care by becoming an active, involved, and informed member of your health care team.
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), formerly known as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its 2005 published report, “To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health Care System,” identified the occurrence of medical errors as a serious problem in the health care system and placed the issue of patient safety high on the nation’s health care agenda. The IOM recommends, among other things, a strategy by which government, health care providers, industry, and consumers could make a concerted effort to improve the public’s awareness of the problem and promote measures to reduce medical errors.
Similarly, in March 2002, the Joint Commission then known as Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations launched the “Speak Up” patient safety program aimed at helping patients and advocates become active in their care; such efforts increased awareness and involvement of all patients regardless of age or reading ability while providing simple advice on how you, as the patient, can have a positive experience when making these decisions. Since the program launched, it has reached people in more than 70 countries worldwide.
Here are some helpful tips that can help you take part in decisions about your health care and more likely, have better outcomes:
It Is Your Body and You Have a Right to Know
- Your health is too important to worry about feeling embarrassed if you do not understand something your health care provider tells you.
- Do not be afraid to ask about safety. If you are receiving medicine mailed to your home, always check the label for the correct drug and dose.
- Do not be afraid to tell your health care provider if you think you are about to receive the wrong medication or therapy, or if you have received a piece of equipment that you do not think you need.
- Do not hesitate to tell your doctor if you think he or she has confused you with another patient.
Do Not Assume Anything
- Tell your health care provider if something does not seem right.
- Make sure your doctor’s office or health care organization has a 24-hour telephone service you can call when you have questions or complaints.
- Notice whether health care workers have washed their hands. Hand washing is the most important way to prevent the spread of infections. Do not be afraid to gently remind your caregiver to do so.
- Make sure your care provider confirms your identity before he or she administers any medication or treatment.
- Gather all necessary information about your condition. Good sources include your doctor, your health care organization, your library, credible and respected websites, and support groups.
- Write down important facts your doctor tells you about your care and treatment you will be receiving, so that you can look for additional information later or seek other opinions. And ask your doctor if he or she has any written information you can keep.
- Thoroughly read all forms and make sure you understand them before you sign anything. If you do not understand, ask the health care staff person to explain them.
- Make sure you are familiar with the operation of any equipment that is required or recommended for use in your home. Make sure you understand use instructions and, if possible, practice before using any equipment.
Ask Your Advocate
- Your advocate or family member can ask questions that you may not think of while you are under stress. They can also help remember answers to questions you have asked and speak up for you if you are unable to.
- Review consents for treatment with your advocate before you sign and make sure you both understand exactly what you are consenting to.
- Your advocate should know what to look for if your condition gets worse and whom to call.
Know Your Medications
- 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 taking and read the contents of bags of intravenous (IV) fluids. If you are not well enough to do this, ask your advocate to do this.
- 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 does not seem to be dripping properly (whether too fast or too slow).
- Whenever you are going to receive a new medication, tell your doctors and health care providers 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 cannot read it, the pharmacist may not be able to either.
Get the Right Home Care Organization
- Ask about the home care organization’s experience in treating your type of illness. What specialized care do they provide in helping patients, like you, get well.
- If you have more than one home care organization to choose from, ask your doctor which one offers the best care for you.
- Check credible websites and carry out your own research to find out whether your home care organization is accredited by the Joint Commission.
Participate in All Decision-Making
- You and your health care provider should agree, at all times, on what will be done during each step of your care.
- Know who will be taking care of you, what services or treatment you will be receiving, how long it will last, and your expectations during this process.
- Understand that more treatments or medications may not always be better. Ask you health care provider what a new treatment or medication is likely to achieve.