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Safety First: Taking an Active Role as a Patient

Published on Aug 24, 2017
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

Patient safety in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes is a growing priority. That’s why most facilities have very specific policies and programs in place to help prevent medical errors and to improve patient safety. But despite their best efforts, healthcare professionals are human beings too. Mistakes can happen sometimes. In fact, if medical error was a disease, it would rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help yourself (or a loved one) improve your safety in a healthcare facility.

Steps you can take to be safe

It is always important to take an active role in your health care and safety. The fact is, patients who work closely with their healthcare team tend to have better results and stay safer than patients who aren’t as involved. Some ways you can be involved include:

  • Check hospital ratings before scheduling appointments or procedures. (People often do their homework before buying a car or appliance, but may not do the same before going to a medical facility!) Organizations that provide this type of information include The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Group and The Joint Commission Quality Check.
  • Ask your doctor or healthcare provider what you should do to prepare for a procedure or surgery. For example, should you take your medicines? Can you eat or drink anything before surgery? Will there be a “time out” just before your surgery, so as to make sure they are doing the right surgery on the right body on the right person? Also, let him or her know about any medical problems you have.
  • Get to know your nurses and aides. They can guide you through your stay and help with your personal care.
  • Use disinfectant wipes on surfaces that other people are likely to touch often, to lower the risk of infection. These include the rolling table surface, chair armrests, bed railings, the phone, the call button, and the TV remote.
  • Know your daily medicine schedule: medicine mix-ups can be deadly. Your hospital bracelet should be checked each time you are given any medicines. Be sure to tell your doctor and healthcare professionals about every medicine you take.
  • Use your call button to ask for help when getting in and out of bed to avoid falls. Always wear non-slip socks or footwear.
  • Do not be shy about asking members of your healthcare team if they have washed their hands, or you may ask them to do it again in front of you.
  • Know the sign and symptoms of infection. If you suspect you do have an infection, talk with a member of your healthcare team right away.
  • Trust your gut – if something feels wrong, speak up. Remember, your healthcare team is there to help you.

Have someone advocate for you

“When you’re diagnosed with a new condition or are staying in a hospital, it can be helpful to have a health advocate to help look out for your safety. This person can be a friend, relative, or professional. Talk about the things that are important to you with your advocate. For example, your advocate can make sure you’re taking the right medicines at the right time. He or she can also help you organize the instructions you’ve been given and help you follow them correctly. You can also ask him or her to help you use the bathroom (if it’s allowed by your healthcare team).”

“Your advocate can also be there when you talk with your doctor or healthcare team. He or she can help make sure you understand what is being said and ask questions that you may not think of.”

Ilene Corina, President
Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy

Don’t be afraid to speak up

An organization called The Joint Commission has a patient safety program called SpeakUP that has been adopted by several healthcare organizations. SpeakUP encourages patients and caregivers to:

Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
Pay attention to the care you get.
Educate yourself about your illness.
Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate (advisor or supporter).
Know what medicines you take and why you take them.
Use a healthcare organization that has been carefully checked out.
Participate in all decisions about your treatment.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]


  • 1. Preventing Infections in the Hospital. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  • 2. UCSF Medical Center. UCFS Patient Safety Committee: Patient safety & you.
  • 3. Important Patient Safety Issues: What You Can Do. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  • 4. Makary MA, Daniel M. Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US. BMJ. 2016;353:1-5.
  • 5. Patient Safety. Accessed March 2, 2017.
  • 6. 10 Things You Can Do to Be a Safe Patient. Accessed March 2, 2017.
  • 7. Patient Checklist for Your Hospital Stay. Accessed March 3, 2017.
  • 8. The Joint Commission. SpeakUP™: Reduce your risk of falling. Accessed March 10, 2017.
  • 9. The Joint Commission. To prevent health care errors, patients are urged to…SpeakUP™. Accessed March 10, 2017.
  • 10. The Joint Commission. SpeakUP™: Help avoid mistakes in your surgery. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  • 11. PULSE Patient Advocate Checklist. Accessed April 11, 2017.
External Resources

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