Health Advocate Blog

How to keep safe from medical mistakes

Medical errors—from surgery mistakes to misdiagnosis to medication mix-ups—are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Providers and hospitals are working to address this complex problem. But there are things you can do to help make sure you get the right care safely. Taking an active role in your healthcare and communicating with your doctors can lead to better results, quality, safety and satisfaction.

Follow these important tips!

Speak up and get the right information

  • Ask questions during your appointments. Write down the answers and repeat back what you understand.
  • Be open with your providers about your symptoms, medications, allergies, and medical history.
  • Get copies of your records and test results.

Get clarification about surgery

Ask your surgeon:

  • Why you need the procedure, what happens if you don’t have it, and if there are any alternatives
  • What are the risks, complications and length of recovery?
  • What is their experience with this procedure?
  • Which hospital/facility is best for your needs?
  • Will the correct part of your body be marked before the operation?

Be smart about medications

  • Tell your doctor about all medications you take (prescription and over-the-counter) and vitamin/herbal supplements.
  • With each new prescription, ask what the medication is for, how/when you should take it, and what the side effects or possible interactions are with other medications or foods.
  • When you receive your medication, check the label to see if it matches what your doctor ordered.

Stay safe in the hospital

Poor communication is the main source of errors that can occur in hospitals. Infections are a major preventable problem. Be sure to:

  • Insist on clean hands. Ask everyone who enters your room — including visitors — to wash their hands.
  • Make sure your healthcare team checks your hospital ID wristband before giving you any medication or procedure.
  • Keep pen and paper handy to write down when doctors see you, which drugs you receive and when, and any questions that you have.
  • Review and make sure you understand your discharge instructions.

Consider a second opinion

Having another doctor confirm your diagnosis and course of treatment is particularly important if you’re facing a procedure. A second opinion may result in a different treatment.