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Medical errors are a leading cause of death and injury. It has been reported that as many as 195,000 people a year die in U.S. hospitals due to medical errors.

Medical errors occur when a planned part of medical care doesn’t work out or when the wrong plan was used. This can happen in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. and in your home. Examples of medical errors are:

  1. A wrong medicine is prescribed or taken.

  2. Too much medicine is taken.

  3. Mistakes are made before, during, or after surgery.

  4. The wrong problem is treated.

To help prevent medical errors, be your own watch dog. Take an active role in every decision about your health care. If necessary, have a family member or friend oversee your care.

Medication Tips

  1. Make sure that all of your doctors, etc. know the medicines you take. This includes prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) ones. It also includes vitamin and herbal supplements. Bring a list of your medicines and/or your medication bottles to your doctor visits.

  2. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist know about any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines.

  3. When your doctor writes a prescription, make sure you can read it. If you can’t read it, the pharmacist might not be able to read it either!

  4. Let your doctor know if you have problems swallowing pills. Some prescribed medicines do not work the right way when they are crushed.

  5. Ask for information about your medicines in words you can understand. Do this when medicines are prescribed and when you receive them.

  6. When you receive your medicine, check the label. Make sure it has your name on it. If you have any questions, ask the pharmacist.

  7. Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure liquid medicines. Also, ask questions if you’re not sure how to use it.

  8. If you get medicines that you take on a regular basis from a mail order pharmacy, call their customer service number for questions and concerns.

Hospital Stay Tips

  1. If you have a choice, choose a hospital with a good rating and a lot of experience in the procedure or surgery you need.

  2. Ask all health care workers who have direct contact with you if they have washed their hands. If not, request that they do.

  3. Tell the doctors, nurses, surgeon, and anesthetist any allergies you have. Make sure that things you are allergic to are written on your chart.

  4. If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done.

  5. Follow pre-surgery instructions. Mark or sign your initials on the limb or area to be operated on.

  6. When you are discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home. Get written instructions for diet, activity, medicines, reasons to call your doctor, and when you need to be seen again.

  7. Ask for written information about the side effects your medicine could cause. Ask which ones you should contact your doctor for.

General Tips

  1. Learn about your health problem and its treatments. Talk with your doctor and/or nurse. Use other trusted sources. (See Gather Facts.)

  2. Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.

  3. Make sure that someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care. This is very important if you have many health problems or are in a hospital.

  4. Make sure that all doctors, etc. involved in your care have your health information. Do not assume that they know everything they need to.

  5. Ask a family member or friend to be with you at office visits, etc. He or she can help get things done and speak up for you if you can’t.

  6. Know that “more” is not always better. Find out why a test or treatment is needed. Ask how it can help you. You could be better off without it.

  7. If you have a test, don’t assume that no news is good news. Find out the results.

  8. If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree and are clear on what will be done. Before you are taken into surgery, mark the body part to be operated on. (Use the marker, etc. the doctor gives you to do this.)


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality