Speak Up

Help Prevent Errors in Your Care

photo of nurse with patient

Everyone has a role in making healthcare safe — physicians, healthcare executives, nurses and technicians. Healthcare organizations across the country are working to make health care safety a priority. You, as the patient, can also play a vital role in making your care safe by becoming an active, involved and informed member of your healthcare team.

An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report has identified the occurrence of medical errors as a serious problem in the healthcare system. The IOM recommends, among other things, that a concerted effort be made to improve the public’s awareness of the problem.

At Alaska Regional, we are committed to providing the highest level of patient care and continually improving our culture of safety. Please use this information as a guide to help you “speak up” and be open with your healthcare providers.

It is important that you feel free to ask questions, ask for educational materials and for information to be clarified, and to be comfortable saying “I don’t understand” regarding any aspect of your medical diagnosis, test, medication or treatment. Speak up and become an active partner in your own care.

Speak up if you have questions or concerns, and if you don’t understand, ask again. It’s your body and you have a right to know.

  • Don’t be afraid to tell your nurse or doctor if you think you are about to receive the wrong medication.
  • Don’t hesitate to tell the staff if you think he or she has confused you with another patient.
  • Ask about safety. If you’re having surgery, for example, ask your doctor to mark the area that is to be operated upon, so that there’s no confusion in the operating room.

Pay attention to the care you are receiving. Make sure you’re getting the right treatments and medications by the right healthcare professionals. Don’t assume anything.

  • Expect the staff to introduce themselves when they enter your room and look for their ID badges.
  • Notice whether the staff have washed their hands. Don’t be afraid to gently remind your doctor or nurse to do this.
  • Know what time of day you normally receive a medication or treatment. If it doesn’t happen or something doesn't seem right, bring this to the attention of your nurse or doctor.
  • Make sure your nurse or doctor confirms your identity, that is, checks your wristband or asks your name, before any medication or treatment is adminstered.

Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the medical tests you are undergoing, and your treatment plan.

  • Ask your doctor about his/her qualifications to treat your illness (and ask the same questions to whom he/she refers you).
  • Get information about your condition from your doctor, your library, respected websites and support groups.
  • Write down important facts your doctor tells you, so that you can look for additional information later. And ask your doctor or nurse for patient education materials.
  • Thoroughly read all medical forms and get clarification before you sign anything.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the operation of any equipment that is being used in your care.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate. Your advocate can ask and answer questions that you may not think of while you are under stress.

  • Ask your advocate to stay with you, even overnight. You will be able to rest easier and your advocate can help make sure you get the right medications and treatments.
  • Make sure your advocate understands your preferences for care and your wishes concerning resuscitation and life support.
  • Review consents for treatment with your advocate before signing. Make sure you both understand what you are agreeing to.
  • Make sure your advocate understands the type of care you will need at home. He/ she should know what to look for if your condition is getting worse and whom to call for help.
photo of doctor with patient

Know what medications you take and why you take them. Medication errors are the most common healthcare mistakes.

  • Be sure to inform your nurse of all your medications (over the counter, herbal, vitamins, etc.) that you take at home.
  • Ask for written information regarding your medication's purpose, brand and generic names, side effects, and how to take it. Keep this on a medication card or list and carry it in your wallet.
  • If you do not recognize a medication, verify that it is for you. Ask about oral medications before swallowing. If you’re not well enough to do this, ask your advocate to help.
  • If you are given an IV, ask the nurse how long it should take for the liquid to “run out.” Tell the nurse if it doesn’t seem to be dripping properly (too fast or slow), or if the site hurts.
  • Whenever you are going to receive a new medication, tell your doctors and nurses about allergies you have, or negative reactions you have had to medications in the past.

Use a hospital, such as Alaska Regional, that has undergone a rigorous on-site evaluation against established, state-of-the-art quality and safety standards, such as that provided by the Joint Commission.

  • Ask your doctor if this hospital offers the best care for your condition.
  • Before you leave the hospital, ask about follow-up care and make sure that you understand all of the instructions.

Participate in all decisions about your treatment. You are the center of the health care team.

  • You and your doctor should agree on exactly what will be done during each step of your care.
  • Know who will be taking care of you, how long the treatment will last, and how you should feel.
  • Understand that more tests or medications may not always be better. Ask your doctor what a new test or medication is likely to achieve.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. If you are unsure about the nature of your illness and the best treatment, consult with additional specialists. The more information you have about the options available, the more confident you will be in the decisions made.
  • Speak up and be actively involved in your care.

The Speak Up program, sponsored by The Joint Commission, urges patients to get involved in their care. Such efforts to increase consumer awareness and involvement are supported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This initiative provides simple advice on how you, as the patient, can make your care a positive experience. After all, research shows that patients who take part in decisions about their healthcare are more likely to have better outcomes.

For more information, please call Alaska Regional Hospital at (907) 276-1131.