Patient Safety - Protecting Yourself from Medical Errors

What are Medical Errors?

Medical errors happen when something that was planned as part of medical care doesn't work out or the wrong plan was used in the first place. Errors can happen with even the most routine tasks—for example, when caregivers do not wash their hands during patient care. Research shows the majority of medical errors can be prevented.

Medical errors can occur anywhere in the healthcare system. 

  • hospitals
  • ambulatory clinics
  • outpatient centers
  • medical offices
  • nursing homes
  • pharmacies
  • patients' rooms

Errors can invole

  • infections such as hospital–acquired infections
  • medicines, such as the wrong prescription or dosage
  • surgery, such as amputation of the wrong limb
  • diagnostic tests and reports, such as failure to act on abnormal events
  • medical equipment, such as defibrillators with dead batteries
  • treatments and therapies, such as giving a patient a blood transfusion of an incorrect blood type or failing to give a patient a salt–free meal

What can you do?

Be involved. The single–most important way you can help prevent errors is to be an active member of your healthcare team.

  • Choose a doctor you feel comfortable talking to about your health.
  • Take part in every decision about your healthcare.
  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
  • Take a relative or friend with you to help ask questions and understand the answers.


Get the results of any test or diagnostic procedure. Ask when you can expect results, if reports will be in person, by phone, or by mail, and what they mean for your care. Don't assume that no news is good news—follow up!


Make sure all of your doctors know about all the medications you are taking, including prescriptions, over–the–counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbals.

Keep a list of all the medications you take. Bring all yor medicines to your doctor at least once a year. Make sure you know what each medicine is for, when to take it, any side effects you could experience, and possible drug–to–drug interactions. Make sure your doctor knows about any drug allergies or reactions you have had to medicines or anesthsia.

You have the right to question anyone involved in your healthcare. It's okay to ask questions and expect answers you can understand.

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