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Today the healthcare available in America is the finest in the history of the world. Our healthcare providers have received the best training, and they have better tools and technology available to them than any other caregiver has ever had. Yet, in spite of this, nearly a third of all American deaths are from medical errors. These are mistakes made that had they not occurred, the patient would have lived. Many more suffer from errors that don't cause death. These are frequently made because the patients involved did not have the knowledge, confidence, or power to stop the mistakes from which they will suffer. In healthcare, unlike the fields of construction, auto repair, or entertainment, when errors are made, people suffer or die. 

You cannot afford to be timid as a patient, a consumer of healthcare services. The statistics bear that out. You, as a patient, must act as you would if you were the son or daughter of a physician or lawyer. Be polite with your caregiver, but be firm that you will not be one of the many who die from a mistake.

Our hope is that these tips and practices will help you be the most satisfied, safest, and empowered patient possible. 

  1. Do not be nervous around or intimidated by your healthcare provider.

    • Just like your car mechanic, they are providing you a service.

    • You are their customer and should be treated like one.

    • If your care provider is too busy to answer your questions, LEAVE AND FIND ANOTHER THAT WILL.

  2. Tell your care provider that you know that 1/3 OF ALL DEATHS in America are from medical errors, and you are determined NOT to be one of them!
    • Most of the time, empowered patients do not suffer from medical errors.
    • Care providers are busy, they are overworked, and most of the time, they are tired.
    • Be polite, but be firm with them that you will avoid being a victim of a medical mistake at all costs.
    • Tell them that one patient dies every 120 seconds from medical errors and that YOU WILL NOT BE ONE OF THEM.
  3. Make sure that all of your doctors know about EVERY medicine you are taking.

    • This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, such as vitamins and herbs.

  4. Bring all of your medicines and supplements to your doctor visits.

    • "Brown bagging" your medicines can help you and your doctor talk about them and find out if there are any problems.

    • It can also help your doctor keep your records up to date and help you get better quality care.

  5. Make sure your doctor knows about any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines.

    • This can help you to avoid getting a medicine that could harm you.

  6. When your doctor writes a prescription for you, make sure you can read it.

    • If you cannot read your doctor's handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either.

  7. Ask for information about your medications in terms you can understand—both when your medications are prescribed and when you get them:

    • What is the medicine for?
    • How am I supposed to take it and for how long?
    • What are the likely side effects? What do I do if they occur?
    • Is this medicine safe to take with other drugs or dietary supplements I am taking?
    • What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
  8. When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, ask, "Is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed?"

    • Never take a medication just because it was prescribed for you.

    • Ask about it and know why you are taking it.

  9. If you have any questions about the directions on your medicine labels, ask.

    • Medicine labels can be hard to understand.

    • For example, ask if "four times daily" means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

  10. Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your liquid medicine.

    • For example, many people use household teaspoons, which often do not hold an actual teaspoon of liquid.

    • Special devices, like marked syringes, help people measure the right dose.

  11. Ask for written information about the side effects your medicine could cause.

    • If you know what might happen, you will be better prepared if it does or if something unexpected happens.

  12. If you are in a hospital, ask all healthcare workers who will touch you whether they have washed their hands. 

    • Handwashing can prevent the spread of infections in hospitals.

    • If a care provider resists washing their hands, DO NOT ALLOW them to touch you.

  13. When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will follow at home.

    • This includes learning about your new medicines, making sure you know when to schedule follow-up appointments, and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities.
    • It is essential to know whether or not you should keep taking the medicines you were taking before your hospital stay. Getting clear instructions may help prevent an unexpected return trip to the hospital.  
  14. If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done.
    • Having surgery at the wrong site (for example, operating on the left knee instead of the right) is rare.
    • But even once is too often.
    • The good news is that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable.
    • Surgeons are expected to sign their initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.
    • DEMAND that your surgeon does this. 
  15. If you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need.
    • Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.  
  16. Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
    • You have a right to QUESTION ANYONE who is involved with your care.  
  17. Make sure that someone, such as your primary care doctor, coordinates your care.
    • This is especially important if you have multiple health problems or are in the hospital.  
    • If you are unable to serve as your own advocate, ask that you be provided one.
  18. Make sure that all your doctors have your relevant health information.
    • Do not assume that everyone has all the information they need.  
    • Do not assume that they can access anything that is recorded electronically.
    • One of the most prevalent problems in healthcare today is one organization not being able to read information from an electronic medical record from another organization.
    • You are the BEST CHANCE of making sure the information in your electronic medical record is available to your caregiver.
    • Get a paper copy of your information and hand carry it between caregivers, if necessary.
  19. Ask a family member or friend to go to appointments with you.
    • Even if you do not need help now, you might need it later.  
  20. Know that "more" is not always better.
    • It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you.
    • You could be better off without it.  
  21. If you have a test, do not assume that no news is good news.
    • Ask how and when you will get the results.  
  22. Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.
    • For example, treatment options based on the latest scientific evidence are available from the Effective Health Care Web site.
    • Ask your doctor if your treatment is based on the latest evidence.
    • DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH online about your condition.