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Consumer Guide to Health Care


Get the Safest Health Care

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Preventing medical errors | Safety in the hospital | Preventing Healthcare-Associated Infections | Medication safety

Your role in preventing medical errors

Medical errors are more common than many people realize. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, at least 44,000 and perhaps as many as 98,000 people die in American hospitals each year from preventable medical errors.  Errors in doctors' offices, pharmacies and nursing homes add to this toll.

The good news is that as a health care consumer, you can take steps to prevent medical errors.  The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has published these guides to help you protect yourself in different health care settings.

Safety in the hospital

Your role in preventing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)

As a patient, you can play an important role in preventing infections in the hospital or other health care settings. Who is at risk of acquiring these infections?
  • Surgical patients or any patient with open wounds.

  • Patients in intensive care units (ICUs) with central line catheters. (A central line catheter is a tube that is passed through a vein to end up in the heart or the large vein returning blood to the heart.)

  • Patients on ventilators (machines that help patients breathe).

  • All patients in hospitals and nursing homes. These places have the potential for transmission of Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) from poor hand hygiene.

  • Patients with urinary catheters (tubes placed in the urinary tract).

What can a patient do to help prevent health care associated infections? Here are two good overviews:

More information to help you prevent these infections.

Medication safety

Medication mistakes can occur for many reasons. You can help prevent some of these errors by keeping informed, communicating with your health care providers and pharmacists, and speaking up about any questions or concerns you have.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a number of helpful guides:

  • Using Medicines Wisely: Simple tips to follow when taking medications, including questions to ask, the importance of reading labels, and keeping track of all the medicines you take.

  • The New OTC Medicine Label: All over-the-counter medicines now carry usage and warning labels. Learn what's important - for your health's sake.

  • Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children: A checklist of things to know and do before giving OTC medicines to children, including their weight, allergies, and medicines they are taking. Explains how to use the Drug Facts label to give medicines safely and avoid side effects.

  • Reporting Problems: Steps to take if you experience a serious reaction or problem with a drug.

Other useful sites to help you avoid medication mistakes include:

  • Drug Information: A comprehensive listing of specific drugs from the National Institutes of Health. You can use this site to look up a particular medicine to find out what conditions the medicine might treat, precautions to follow when taking the medicine, possible side effects, and how to store the medicine.

  • Drug interactions: What you should know: Information on how the effectiveness of the medicines you are taking can be affected by other drugs, illnesses you have, and even some foods and beverages.

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Last Modified: March 15, 2013