Patients--take charge of your safety when you're in the hospital. Read more.
Be your own safety advocate
May 20, 2009
If you've had day surgery or a diagnostic procedure recently, nurses and other staff probably asked you more than once to verify who you are.
No, this isn't a sign that health care workers are prone to memory problems. Double- and triple-checking that the right patient is about to be operated on, or otherwise treated, is just one of numerous measures that health care organizations have adopted to keep patients safe.
"Many of these measures have been spelled out in the National Patient Safety Goals," said Tish Eller, Edward Hospital patient advocate. "That's a set of guidelines updated annually by the Joint Commission, a not-for-profit group that accredits more than 15,000 U.S. health care organizations."
Patients have a key role in making sure these safety goals are met. According to Eller, one of the guidelines specifically calls for encouraging "patients' active involvement in their own care as a patient safety strategy." This involvement applies to patients' family members too, especially when the patients are unable to speak for themselves.
Here's how you can support patient safety:
At the hospital, doctor's office or other health care facility:
- Ask questions of your nurse, doctor or pharmacist if you don't understand directions, and jot down their answers. If the question doesn't occur to you until you've returned home, don't hesitate to call for clarification.
- It's a good idea to bring a family member along as a second set of "ears." It's sometimes difficult to remember what's said to you when you're feeling ill or stressed about your health.
- Be alert for good safety practices. For example, did your health care provider wash their hands before examining you?
When you're hospitalized, also:
- Don't be afraid to speak up if something just doesn't "feel right" regarding your care. For example, if you're being given two pills instead of the single pill you had the previous time, ask about the purpose of the second pill.
- Ask to speak to the nursing supervisor or the patient advocate/representative if you reported a safety concern and don't think you received an adequate response.
- Be sure your nurses and doctors know your complete list of medications. This information should be passed on from one point of care to the next (such as when moving from the hospital to a rehab facility).
- Check out written and online patient information to see if your hospital offers other ways of communicating safety concerns. Some hospitals, for example, have patient advisory boards where former patients and/or their family members can share their thoughts about their hospital experience.
Sherry Markwell, RN, a risk manager at Edward Hospital, sums it up: "It's important to be actively involved in your care. Only you know how much information you need to make comfortable decisions about your health. And only you can report exactly how your care and your health care environment are making you feel."
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services