The promotion of patient safety and the prevention of medical errors is a nationwide priority. Research estimates that over 400,000 people die each year in the U.S. as the result of preventable medical errors. Medical errors can take place in many settings. They occur in hospitals, physician offices, nursing homes, pharmacies and clinics. They may involve medications, surgical procedures, equipment, laboratory reports or the diagnosis itself.

Hospitals, health care providers, and government agencies are working to make the health care system safer for patients and consumers. Individual patients also play a key role in ensuring a safer health care experience. Perhaps the most important way to ensure optimal health care for yourself and your family is by becoming an active and positive participant. Research indicates that patients who are well informed and take part in decisions about their health care are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.

  • Become an active involved knowledgeable member of your health care team.
  • The best time to choose a health care provider for yourself or your family is before you need one. When an emergency or illness occurs, you might not have enough time or information to make such an important decision.
  • Decide if you want to see an internist or a family practitioner for your primary care provider. Do you need to see any specialists, for example an obstetrician, gynecologist, allergist or a pediatrician for your children?
  • Choose a health care provider with whom you can comfortably discuss your health and treatment who is experienced in the type of care you require.
  • Check Credentials! Select a doctor who is board certified or board eligible. Board certified means that the doctor has had three or more years of training after medical school in a specialty field and has passed a national written and oral examination. Some younger doctors may be board eligible which means they have completed the training but not the exams.
  • Determine which hospitals or laboratories the health care provider uses and if the facilities are accredited. Hospitals and laboratories are accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations which is a national authority. Accreditation means that the hospital or lab has met strict health and safety requirements.
  • Be sure that the health care provider you have selected accepts your insurance.
  • Consider making an interview appointment with the health care provider. Many providers encourage this practice which allows you to obtain information before deciding to choose a provider. During this visit you will be able to ask specific questions about the provider as well as general questions about the practice. For example you might ask how many providers there are in the practice and who covers for weekends or vacations.
  • Ask questions! Communication is the foundation of the health care provider-patient relationship. Providers expect and want to answer questions. Some people write questions down before an appointment, others take notes. If you feel that you need more time to have questions answered ask if you may return at a later date.
  • Some people ask a trusted family member or friend to accompany them to appointments or stay with them if they are hospitalized. This person provides a second set of eyes and ears! They can ask questions, help you to remember instructions, review medical forms, and speak for you if you are unable.
  • Be honest with your provider. Don't withhold information which might be important in the delivery of your health care. The role of your health care provider is to help, not judge.
  • Learn as much as you can about your medical condition or treatments. Be aware of the screening or vaccinations that are recommended for your age group. Ask your provider to give you written materials in order to learn more about your diagnosis, medical tests or treatments.
  • If you don't understand something, keep asking questions until you feel comfortable. Seek additional information from reputable books and websites if needed.
  • If you need interpreter services, don't hesitate to ask.
  • Keep a record of your medical history. It should include all medical conditions, allergies, hospitalizations, lab work, tests, immunizations, prescription and over the counter medications, dietary supplements, as well as contact information for other health care providers who care for you.
  • Be sure to carefully read and understand all medical forms before signing them.
  • Consider a second opinion. Your provider won't be insulted and additional information will allow you to make a decision that you can feel comfortable with.
  • If concerns surrounding your health occur, speak with your provider. Health care providers want to know if their patients are unhappy and will usually work towards improving the situation.

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