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Twenty Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors

Patient Fact Sheet

Medical errors are one of the Nation’s leading causes of death and injury. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year as the result of medical errors. This means that more people die from medical errors than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS.

What Are Medical Errors?

Medical errors happen when something that was planned as a part of medical care doesn’t work out, or when the wrong plan was used in the first place. Medical errors can occur anywhere in the health care system.

Most errors result from problems created by today’s complex health care system. But errors also happen when doctors and their patients have problems communicating. For example, a recent study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that doctors often do not do enough to help their patients make informed decisions. Uninvolved and uninformed patients are less likely to accept the doctor’s choice of treatment and less likely to do what they need to do to make the treatment work.

What Can Yo Do? Be Involved in Your Health Care

1. The single most important way you can help to prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team.

Medicines

2. Make sure that all of your doctors know about everything you are taking. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs.

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

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

5. As for information about your medicines in terms you can understand-both when your medicines are prescribed and when you receive them.

  • What is the medicine for?
  • How am I supposed to take it, and for how long?
  • What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
  • Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
  • What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?

6. When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, ask: Is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed?

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

8. Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your liquid medicine. Also, ask questions if you’re not sure how to use it.

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

Hospital Stays

10. If you have a choice, choose a hospital at which many patients have the procedure or surgery you need.

11. If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who have direct contact with you whether they have washed their hands.

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

Surgery

13. If you are having surgery make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done.

OTHER STEPS YOU CAN TAKE

14. Speak up if you have questions or concerns.

15. Make sure that someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care.

16. Make sure that all health professionals involved in your care have important health information about you.

17. Ask your family member or friend to be there with you and to be your advocate (someone who can help get things done and speak up for you if you can’t).

18. Know that “more” is not always better.

19. If you have a test, don’t assume that no news is good news.

20. Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.

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