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This blog is written in response to the blog, 98,000 Reasons to Care about Patient Safety, by Jane Ayre at This is the number of Americans who die from medical errors each year. As a nurse, I know that patient safety is a concept that is foremost in the minds of healthcare providers, administration, and regulatory agencies. How can you, the consumer, help prevent medical errors ? In this blog, I will outline tips to help the consumer prevent other medical errors.

  1. Be an active part of your healthcare team. Ask questions not just in the hospital but anywhere you receive healthcare. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.
  2. If you have a choice, choose a hospital at which many patients have had the procedure and surgery you need and have had good results.
  3. When choosing a specialist, ask your own physician for a personal recommendation. I have been known to ask my primary doctor: “If this were your wife, who would you send her to for this condition?”
  4. Ask all healthcare workers who have direct contact with you whether they have washed their hands. Adequate hand washing is a primary way to prevent infection.
  5. Before you leave the doctor’s office or hospital, make sure you understand the treatment plan. This includes understanding about your medications, follow-up care, and when to contact the doctor.
  6. Before you leave the hospital, make sure you understand when you can resume regular activities. Make sure your doctor understands your regular activity level. You should know when you can shower, take a tub bath, lift 5 lbs, return to work, etc.
  7. If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on what exactly will be done. For example, if you are having surgery on your right arm, make sure all involved knows it is the right arm. Make sure the site is marked before surgery.
  8. Make sure someone is in charge of your care. This could be your personal physician. You need a point person to direct your care.
  9. Make sure that all health care professionals involve in your care has your important health information. I love patients who come in with a written history. It is important that healthcare professional know your allergies, past surgeries, past and current medical conditions, etc.
  10. Have a family member or friend designated as your advocate. Ask that person today. Make sure they know your medical history and your preferences in regards to medical care.
  11. Before a test or treatment, ask why it is needed and how it can help you. Be informed before you consent.
  12. If you have a test, follow-up and get the results.
  13. Learn about your condition and treatments. If you use the Internet, use reliable sources. Treatment recommendations based on the latest scientific evidence are available from the National Guidelines Clearinghouse at One of my favorites is

You can visit my previous blogs on detail ways to prevent medication errors. I have outlined below the top 6 tips:

  1. Make sure all healthcare professionals involved in your care know everything you are taking. This includes over-the counter medications, vitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements. Review these with your doctors once a year.
  2. Make sure all healthcare professionals involved in your care know about any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to any medications.
  3. When you get a new prescription from your doctor, make sure you can read it.
  4. Understand your medications. What is it for? How is it to be taken and for how long? What are the side effects? Can I take it with other medications? What should I avoid while taking this medication?
  5. Ask the pharmacist if you have any questions about the directions on your medication labels.
  6. Ask for written information about the side effects.

Be involved in your care. Ask questions until you understand. Never consent to a test, surgery, or procedure until you are informed. Do not feel like a nuisance, you are standing up for your right to safe medicine that is appropriate for you and your condition. Your diligence could save your life. Share this with your family and friends.

Adapted from Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

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