It probably comes as no shock that heart disease and cancer are the top two causes of death in the United States but would it surprise you to learn that preventable medical error is the third leading cause of death in this country, Hospitals, nursing homes, healthcare facilities, and the healthcare professionals that work in these facilities have a legal and ethical duty to do no harm to their patients but patients are dying at an alarming rate every day from mistakes and missteps that can be prevented.

Patient Safety Awareness Week, which runs March 11 through 17 this year, is an annual national safety campaign created to bring awareness to preventable patient safety issues. This year’s safety campaign focuses on patient engagement. Since we’ve all been a patient before and will most likely be again at some point in our lives, increasing our own awareness of patient safety issues may improve our medical experience and ultimately our survival.

10 Steps for Patient Engagement to Improve Patient Safety

  1. Be proactive in your medical care. You are part of your medical healthcare team and have a duty to actively participate in your medical care in order to achieve the best possible medical outcome.
  2. Ask questions and demand answers from your healthcare providers. Make sure you know what your main problem is, what you need to do to get better, and why.
  3. Learn what signs and symptoms you should look for which would indicate infection, lack of progress, or problems with your treatment plan or dangerous side effects from prescription medications.
  4. Ask your healthcare provider to explain the risks and benefits of any recommended treatment and medications prescribed. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Are there other treatment or medication options available? Remember, YOU are the patient and you get to decide how to proceed with your medical care.
  5. Take a family member or trusted friend with you when you see your healthcare provider. Two sets of eyes and ears are better than one especially if upsetting or complicated information is discussed. If you don’t have a trusted family member or friend who can accompany you, ask the healthcare provider if you can record your visit on your smartphone or other recording device.
  6. How many times after you’ve left a medical appointment did you remember an important question you forget to ask? Take the time before your healthcare appointments to write down any and all questions and ask them before your appointment ends.
  7. Keep your personal and family health history documented and updated. Keep a copy with you or in your smart phone or other device so it is easily accessible for yourself, caregivers, and healthcare providers.
  8. Keep an updated list of all medications, supplements, and vitamins you are taking. Some dietary and herbal supplements may negatively affect medication you’re prescribed so it’s important your doctors and pharmacists know everything you’re taking whether or not it’s prescribed or over-the-counter.
  9. Follow up on any medical tests ordered and get your test results. Keep a copy of your test results in a designated folder that you can always access and provide to other healthcare providers if necessary.
  10. Do your own research. If you need a unique or specialized surgery, research for the best surgeon in the country for that procedure. Your local surgeon may be qualified, but if he or she does only 3 procedures a month as opposed to a doctor in another state that does 3 procedures a day, you may choose the more experienced surgeon.

Although following these steps do not guarantee medical errors won’t occur since human beings sometimes make mistakes, being an active, engaged participant in your healthcare and medical treatment can improve your patient safety experience and improve your odds in favor of a successful medical outcome.