There has recently been considerable discussion about the fact that the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, is medical error. Use the following “Be Safer” guide to help reduce your risks.
Be very clear with your provider about:
• Medications you might be taking, including over the counter pills, vitamins, and supplements. It’s helpful to write out this information and give it to your provider.
• Allergies, adverse reactions to medications
• Family health history
• Your past medical history
• A special diet plan you are on.
Prepare for appointments by writing down concerns, symptoms etc. If possible, e-mail them to the provider before your visit and definitely give a copy to them.
Enter information into your personal health notebook when:
• You see or talk to your medical provider, case manager or anyone else impacting your care.
• You receive test results
• Medications are prescribed, you have an allergic reaction or when you stop a medication. Be sure to include all over the counter medications, supplements and vitamins as part of your list of medications.
• You receive discharge summaries from hospitalizations and medical appointments.
In addition, ask for copies of your medical records so you can be sure that the information they have for you is accurate. Request a discharge summary of your hospitalization. Learn more at Managing Health Information: Yours/Theirs
Seek second opinions: Many patients seek second opinions from specialists but are less likely to consider one for evaluating diagnostic test results, including radiology and pathology findings.
Advocates. Use them whenever possible. Learn more at Health Advocate-Who, What, When and Where.
Filing a Prescription: A lot of errors occur because patients get the wrong medication, it’s inappropriately prescribed, or there are issues with dosing and/or how it’s to be taken.
• If you are given a prescription
- Make sure you can read it.
- If it’s going to be called in to the pharmacy, ask for the name of the medication and write it down. Because many pharmacies will give generic medications, be sure to ask for both the trade and generic names.
- Know why you are being given the prescription and write down how you should be taking it and when.
- Ask about side effects and what you should do if one occurs
- Are there foods, other meds, supplements, activities, alcohol, which should be avoided while taking the medication? Be sure to remind your provider of your allergies
• When picking up a prescription:
- Check all your prescriptions before you leave the pharmacy, or when you first receive them by mail.
- Make sure the medication name matches the one given by your provider.
- If this is a prescription renewal, check for color, size and dosage.
- If it doesn’t look like your previous prescriptions, talk to your pharmacist immediately.
- If it’s a new prescription, check how you are to take the medication. Does this correspond to what your provider told you? If not, talk to the pharmacist and if need be, call your provider.
- If you will be taking a liquid medication, ask the pharmacist for the best device to measure out the liquid.
Encourage Hand Washing: This is particularly important if you are in a hospital setting, where according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four patients get sick by just being there. Providers that are asked by patients if they’ve washed their hands are more likely to do so.
Research Hospitals and Surgeons: Outcomes are better when choosing hospitals and surgeons who have the most experience treating the type of condition you have.