How You Can Help Guard Against Errors

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How You Can Help Guard Against Errors

Healthy Lifestyle
Caring for Yourself
How You Can Help Guard Against Errors
How You Can Help Guard Against Errors
Who has a major role to play in preventing medical errors? You do.
InteliHealth Content

InteliHealth Content

How You Can Help Guard Against Errors

By Lisa Ellis
InteliHealth Staff Writer

Experts say that you, as a patient, have one of the most important roles to play in protecting yourself from medical errors.

Here are some tips for patients, compiled from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the U.S. government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and interviews with experts.

Active Participation

  • Take part in every decision about your health care.
  • Ask questions, and speak up about anything that you don't understand or that causes you concern.
  • If you are not prepared to ask questions on your own behalf — because of personality, illness or other reasons — ask a family member or friend to fill this role for you.


  • Keep a list of everything you take. Make sure you know the dosages and the purpose of the medicines.
  • Read medicine labels, including warnings. Learn what side effects to watch out for, whether the medicine has dangerous interactions with other drugs, and whether you should avoid certain activities — such as drinking alcohol or spending time in the sun — while you are taking it. If you have concerns or questions, ask your pharmacist or your doctor.
  • Tell all of your doctors and your pharmacist about every drug you are taking, and any allergies. This includes prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements and herbal products. Bring your medicines to your doctor appointments.
  • Make sure the medicine you receive is what the doctor actually prescribed. If it looks different than what you expected, ask the pharmacist about it.

Test Results

  • Make sure you get the results of every test, and understand what they mean.
  • If you do not hear about test results, never assume that everything is all right. Call your doctor's office and ask.

Hospital Stays And Surgery

  • Whenever possible, choose a hospital where many patients receive the same procedure that you need. There is no independent source of data in most states. Ask your doctor or hospital staff for the numbers.
  • Ask the people who care for you if they have washed their hands. This may make them wash more often.
  • If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor and your surgeon all agree on what will be done during the operation.
  • Ask about how long the procedure will take, the potential risks and complications, and what your recovery period may be like.
  • Make sure that everyone who takes care of you in the hospital knows all important health information about you. This includes allergies, previous bad reactions to anesthesia, and all medications you have been taking — even over-the-counter drugs, herbal preparations and vitamins.
  • Insist that your surgeon write his or her initials or words such as "yes" or "this side" (in permanent ink) on the part of the body that is supposed to be operated on (for example, a knee). It's even a good idea to write "no" or "not this side" on the opposite body part.
  • Directly before the operation, ask to make sure that every person involved with the operation knows who you are, what operation you are having, and on what side of the body.
  • Ask about any new medication you may receive. Make sure it's what your doctor ordered.
  • When you are discharged, ask your doctor to explain your treatment plan, including any changes in medications, restrictions on activity and any therapy you may need.

Learn More

  • Find out more about your disease or condition. InteliHealth offers comprehensive information about many conditions, as well as links to U.S. government and other Web sites.


Last updated June 23, 2014

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