March 11 to 17 Is Patient Safety Awareness Week—Why Is That Important?

Author: Jonathan Marsh

One in five people experience a medical error in their own care—and 33% have reported an error in the care of a close relative or friend, according to a recent national survey from Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and the University of Chicago.

Medical errors are one important reason why the upcoming Patient Safety Awareness Week—taking place this year March 11 to 17—is so important.

“Despite progress in patient safety over the years, studies suggest that medical error and preventable harm remain major sources of injury and death among patients,” according a press release from IHI, the organization that now sponsors Patient Safety Awareness Week. The National Patient Safety Foundation was the lead sponsor of the week for 15 years until it recently merged with IHI.

The national survey also found that 73% of those who experienced medical errors said the error had a long-term impact on the patient’s physical or emotional health, financial well-being, or family relationships.

About half of those experiencing a medical error spoke with a medical professional about it. Those who did not speak up said they did not think it would help, or they did not know how to report the error.

Here are some ways as a patient that you can improve your own safety when you receive medical care:

  1. Take a list of medications with you to medical visits, including any nutritional supplements. Medication interactions are a major source of patient safety problems; do your best to avoid this by letting health care professionals know all medicines you take, including ones that are over-the-counter (not by prescription). If possible, bring the medication bottles with you so your health care team has information on dosing.
  1. Have questions ready to ask—and chime in if something is unclear or may be an error. With health care professionals strapped for time more than ever nowadays, they’ll appreciate it if you are ready with any questions you have about your care or the care of a loved one. That said, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re told something that you don’t understand or if you think your health care team has made an error in your care. It may feel awkward to speak up, but better to self-advocate than experience something that could hurt your health.
  1. Ask for additional trusted resources for more information. Many people turn to the internet—aka “Dr. Google”—for health information nowadays. However, not all sites are equally reliable. Ask your health care provider which sites they recommend for additional health information so you can inform yourself and be aware of any safety issues involved with your care. Some sites that are generally reliable include WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, and the sites of professional medical societies.
  1. Wash your hands. You’ve heard this one before, but it can’t be stressed enough. So many bugs and infections could be prevented with simple handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds. Regular handwashing is vital anywhere you go, but it’s especially important if you are spending time in a medical office or hospital. Ask your health care provider if they are washing their hands as well.

Many health organizations sponsor special events for health professionals and patients during Patient Safety Awareness Week. For more information, here is a link to the IHI’s press release.

For additional practice with patient safety, here is a link to a crossword puzzle focused on this special week and a word search. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also has a page with links categorized for hospital staff, patients, long-term care facility staff, and other categories. You may find helpful information among those links.

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