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Help prevent hospital errors

Alternate Names

Medical errors - prevention


A hospital error is when there is a mistake in your medical care. Errors can be made in your:

  • Medicines
  • Surgery
  • Diagnosis
  • Equipment
  • Lab and other test reports

Hospital errors are a leading cause of death. Doctors and nurses are working to make hospital care safer. 

Learn what you can do to prevent medical errors when you are in the hospital.

Take an Active Part in Your Health Care

  • Share your health information with health care providers in the hospital. Do not think they already know it.
  • Know what tests are being done. Ask what the test is for, ask for test results, and ask what the results mean for your health. 
  • Know what your condition is and the plan for treatment. Ask questions when you don’t understand. 
  • Bring a family member or friend with you to the hospital. They can help get things done if you can’t help yourself. 
  • Find a primary care provider to work with you. They can help if you have a lot of health problems or if you are in the hospital.

If You Are Having Surgery, Help Keep Yourself Safe

Go to a hospital you trust.

  • Go to a hospital that does a lot of the type of surgery you are having. 
  • You want the doctors and nurses to have a lot of experience with patients like you. 

Make sure that you and your surgeon know exactly where you are getting your operation. Have the surgeon mark on your body where they will operate.

Decrease Your Risk for Infection

Remind family, friends, and health care providers to wash their hands: 

  • When they enter and leave your room 
  • Before and after touching you 
  • Before and after using gloves 
  • After using the bathroom

Take Charge of Your Medicines

Tell your nurse and doctor about: 

  • Any allergies or side affects you have to any medicines. 
  • All of the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbs you take. Make a list of your medicines to keep in your wallet. Here is a wallet card that you can download and print: 
  • Any medicines you brought from home. Don’t take your own medicine unless your doctor says it is ok. Tell your nurse if you take your own medicine. 

Know about the medicine that you will get in the hospital. Speak up if you think you are getting the wrong medicine or getting a medicine at the wrong time. Know or ask for: 

  • Names of the medicines 
  • What each medicine does and its side effects 
  • What times you should get them in the hospital

Help Improve Safety in the Hospital

Expect that all medicines should have a label with the name of the medicine on it. All syringes, tubes, bags, and pill bottles should have a label. If you do not see a label, ask your nurse what the medicine is. 

Ask your nurse if you are taking any “high-alert” medicine. These medicines can cause harm if they are not given the right way. A few high-alert medicines are blood thinners, insulin, and narcotic pain medicines. Ask what extra safety steps are being taken.

When to Call the Doctor

Call you doctor if you have concerns about hospital errors.

Review Date: 8/25/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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