If you don’t work in health care, you might not know it is Patient Safety Awareness Week. In the past, I didn’t think very much about patient safety either. I just assumed medical centers were pretty safe places and my own personal well-being as a patient wasn’t something I needed to be concerned about. And with no medical training, I would have never felt comfortable questioning a member of my health care team – what did I know?
And then I joined Virginia Mason, where patient safety is always on the top of our minds. In our culture, patients are welcomed and encouraged to speak up. I have since learned to follow these steps when I’m a patient to ensure I’m getting the safest and most appropriate care. (VM provides these tips in a brochure available throughout the medical center.)
- Know about your care.
You and your doctor should agree on exactly what will happen to you in the hospital. Know who will be taking care of you, how long a treatment or procedure will last and how you should expect to feel after a treatment or procedure.
- Pay attention.
Watch what is happening in the room around you. If you don’t know, ask, and if you still don’t understand, please ask again.
- Enlist your friends and family.
Encourage a trusted family member or friend to stay with you as your “health care partner,” especially if you feel the need for extra support or advice. Ask your advocate to be your “eyes and ears” – to know everything that is happening to you and why – and to speak up if something seems strange. Make sure your advocate knows how you feel about resuscitation and life support.
- Speak up.
Voice questions or concerns. Don’t be embarrassed to point out something that seems wrong.
- Check for ID badges.
Look for ID badges – every staff member must wear one. Don’t let anyone care for you who is not wearing a badge.
- Make sure your care providers wash their hands.
All staff members are required to wash their hands. They must wash their hands before and after everything they do. If they don’t, please ask them to do so.
- Make sure you are the right patient.
Staff must identify you before they provide care to you. They must use two methods of identification every time, such as name and birth date or name and medical record number. If your caregiver does not use two methods – please remind them to do so.
- Know your medications.
Ask about the reason for all of your medications. If a pill looks unfamiliar to you – don’t take it unless you know what it is. Get written information about your prescriptions and read it. Make sure you can read your doctor’s writing on your prescriptions if you receive a handwritten prescription.
Even if you’re not a patient at VM, you can still use the steps to ensure your visit to a hospital or doctor’s office is a safe one – wherever you may be.