Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality U.S. Department of Health & Human Services


Article Content

Patient safety is one of the nation's most pressing healthcare challenges. A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 44,000-98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year as the result of lapses in patient safety.


This fact sheet tells what you can do to get safer healthcare. It was developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association.


For a Public Service Announcement on the "5 Steps to Safer Health Care" (Agency for Healthcare Research And Quality, 2005) visit http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/5stepspsa.htm.


1. Ask questions if you have doubts or concerns. Ask questions and make sure that you understand the answers. Choose a physician you feel comfortable talking to. Take a relative or friend with you to help you ask questions and understand the answers.


2. Keep and bring a list of all the medicines you take. Give your physician and pharmacist a list of all the medicines that you take, including nonprescription medicines. Tell them about any drug allergies you have. Ask about side effects and what to avoid while taking the medicine. Read the label when you get your medicine, including all warnings. Make sure your medicine is what the physician ordered and know how to use it. Ask the pharmacist about your medicine if it looks different than you expected.


3. Get the results of any test or procedure. Ask when and how you will get the results of tests or procedures. Do not assume that the results are fine if you do not get them when expected, be it in person, by phone, or by mail. Call your physician and ask for your results. Ask what the results mean for your care.


4. Talk to your physician about which hospital is best for your health needs. Ask your physician about which hospital has the best care and results for your condition if you have more than one hospital to choose from. Be sure that you understand the instructions you get about follow-up care when you leave the hospital.


5. Make sure you understand what will happen if you need surgery. Make sure you, your physician, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done during the operation. Ask your physician, "Who will manage my care when I am in the hospital?" Ask your surgeon:


* Exactly what will you be doing?


* About how long will it take?


* What will happen after the surgery?


* How can I expect to feel during recovery?



Tell the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses about any allergies, bad reaction to anesthesia, and any medications you are taking.


For more information about medical errors, visit http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/errorsix.htm. A Federal report on medical errors can be accessed online, and print copies (Publication No. OM 00-0004) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse: Phone, 1-800-358-9295 (outside the United States, please call 703-437-2078) or e-mail: [email protected].


Editor's note

Plastic surgical nurses should encourage patients to follow these practices. This information is reprinted here to make nurses aware of the resources available to the general public.




Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2005, May). 5 Steps to safer health care. Retrieved September 16, 2008, from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Web site: http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/5stepspsa.htm[Context Link]

Suggested Readings


1.20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors, Patient Fact Sheet at http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/20tips.htm


20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors in Children, Patient Fact Sheet at http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/20tipkid.htm


Be Prepared for Medical Appointments, Build Your Question List at http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/beprepared.htm


It's Your Health: Use Your Medications Safely at http://www.ahrq.gov/research/medication.htm


Ways You Can Help Your Family Prevent Medical Errors at http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/5tipseng/5tips.htm

Section Description


The Patient Education department provides readers with practical ideas and solutions to all phases of patient education. Our intent is to offer nurses materials that they can use with their patients. Feel free to apply the materials in the Patient Education department to patients in your practice.