On-line fact sheets provide patient safety education

Free and easy downloadable information

Before creating a tool to help patients and their families understand their roles in patient safety, Cezanne Garcia, MPH, CHES, manager of patient and family education Services at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, conducted a literature search to determine what information was available.

Although the committee assigned to the task decided to create a tool that was more institution-specific, Garcia uncovered a multitude of educational sheets on patient safety created by the Rockville, MD-based Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). All can be downloaded for free at the agency’s web site: www.ahrq.gov/consumer/index.html.

The following is a summary of the information on some of the educational handouts to improve patient safety:

• Five steps to safer health care

The first step to safer care is for patients to voice their concerns and insist on answers to their questions in terms they can understand.

Keeping a list of all medicines taken whether prescription, over-the-counter medicines, or herbal supplements is the second step for safe health care according to AHRQ. This list, along with drug allergies, needs to be shared with a patient’s physician and pharmacist.

Step three is to insist on receiving results from tests or procedures either in person, on the phone, or in the mail. It’s also important to know what the results mean in terms of personal health care.

Step four instructs patients to discuss options with their health care team if they need to be hospitalized. Some hospitals specialize in certain procedures and may be a better choice. Before leaving the hospital patients should be sure they understand the discharge instructions and know how to get follow-up care.

The final step is for patients to be sure they understand what will happen if they need surgery. For example, they need to know exactly what will be done, how long the surgery will take, and how they will feel during recovery.

• 20 tips to help prevent medical errors

This instructional piece advises patients to be an active member of their health care team. A good portion focuses on medicine instructing patients to not only provide their physician information about the medicines they take but to get information about prescribed medications. They should be sure they understand how to measure medications and the correct dosage.

The final instruction to patients is to learn as much as they can about their condition and treatments not only from their health care provider but from other reliable sources as well.

A tip sheet focusing on the prevention of pediatric medical errors is similar in content to this fact sheet.

• Quick tips — When getting medical tests

According to this AHRQ tip sheet, a study found that between 10% and 30% of the Pap smear test results that were labeled "normal" were not. That’s why patients need to make sure that tests are done correctly. This government agency advises patients to ask which lab the clinic uses and why that particular laboratory was selected. It may be that the patient’s health plan requires that tests go to that lab.

Patients should check to see if the lab is accredited. The College of American Pathologists [(800) 323-4040] and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations [(630) 792-5800] both accredit labs.

The Food and Drug Administration approves facilities that do mammograms; therefore, there should be a certificate hanging on the wall.

• Quick tips — When talking with your doctor

It’s important for patients to give physicians a complete health history without waiting to be asked, according to the AHRQ. That includes personal information that the patient might find embarrassing. Patients should keep an up-to-date written health history.

They also should give their physician a list of the medications they take that includes the dosage and frequency. Alternative medicines and complementary therapies should be disclosed as well. Other medical information that should be given to a patient’s physician is past test results and X-ray film.

In addition to providing information, patients should come prepared to get information. That means writing down questions in advance with the most important ones listed first. To remember what is said, patients might try taking notes or asking permission to use a tape recorder. Requesting information to take home, such as written instructions, is another way to remember what was discussed during the visit.

Patients need to take the initiative to follow up once they leave their physician’s office. That means they need to call the clinic if they have questions, their symptoms get worse, or they don’t receive their test results. Also, if their physician has told them to have certain tests or to see a specialist, they need to call for an appointment.


For more information about patient safety material, contact:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2101 E. Jefferson St., Rockville, MD 20852. Web site: www.ahrq.gov.