Get the Safest Health Care

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

10 Patient Safety Tips for Hospitals

Taking Care of Myself: A Guide for When I Leave 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 healthcare-associated infections? Here are a couple good overviews:

Health Care - Associated Infections. Information from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Vital Signs: Making Health Care Safer: Reducing Bloodstream Infections. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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.

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.

Other links:

Wisconsin Division of Public Health fact sheets

Patient Guides on Healthcare-Associated Infections, from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

MRSA Fact Sheet from the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

Hand Hygiene Saves Lives: Patient Admission Video - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Speak Up: Five Things You Can Do to Prevent Infection from the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that evaluates health care quality and safety.

To learn more, contact the Wisconsin Division of Public Health at 608-267-7711. To suggest additional HAI resources or topics for this page, email the Division of Public Health.

Last Revised: December 10, 2019