Joint Commission urges patients to speak up

Two of the nation’s leading advocates of health care quality and safety have launched a national campaign to urge patients to take a role in preventing health care errors. Dubbed "Speak Up," the groundbreaking program sponsored by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations encourages patients to become active, involved and informed participants on the health care team.

The simple steps are based on research that shows that patients who take part in decisions about their health care are more likely to have better outcomes. Such efforts to increase consumer awareness and involvement are supported by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The next step

Dennis S. O’Leary, MD, Joint Commission president, announced the initiative and said it was the logical next step in the health care industry’s efforts to reduce medical errors.

"Everyone has a role to play in preventing health care errors," he says. "Physicians, health care executives, nurses, and other health care workers are already working hard to address this ongoing problem. It is now time for patients themselves to become part of this effort."

To help prevent health care errors, patients are urged to "Speak Up." The advice for patients spells out the words "Speak Up:"

  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns, and if you don’t understand, ask again. It’s your body and you have a right to know.
  • Pay attention to the care you are receiving. Make sure you’re getting the right treatments and medications by the right health care professionals. Don’t assume anything.
  • Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the medical tests you are undergoing, and your treatment plan.
  • Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.
  • Know what medications you take and why you take them. Medication errors are the most common health care errors.
  • Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center, or other type of health care organization that has undergone a rigorous on-site evaluation against established state-of-the-art quality and safety standards, such as that provided by JCAHO.
  • Participate in all decisions about your treatment. You are the center of the health care team.

The Joint Commission and CMS urge health care providers to promote the "Speak Up" campaign to patients and offers materials to help. On the Joint Commission web site, at, you can download a "Speak Up" brochure with instructions for how to customize it with your own logo. There also are instructions for how a printing company can turn the computer file into a brochure for you.