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Together we are “United for Safety!” Safe patient care is a primary responsibility for leaders of health care organizations, clinicians, the staff who deliver care, and those who support care delivery. Patients and families also play a vital role in preventing medical errors and reducing harm. Although barriers to patient engagement exist, being an active member of your own health care team is important and can help keep you and others free from harm. This means everyone, including you, should be focused on patient safety and should speak up when something doesn’t seem right.

Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals dedicate their lives to caring for patients, but providing health care can be complex. There are many steps involved with a single health care visit. A large number of people are often involved with the care of a patient. Sometimes providers use confusing medical terms and language. Errors or adverse events can happen when there are one or more missteps in a series of actions. Human errors will always occur (because humans are not perfect) but health care organizations work to create systems that make it difficult for human errors to reach patients and make it as easy as possible for clinicians to provide safe and effective care. For example, most physicians today prescribe medications by using computer systems rather than handwritten prescriptions. This reduces the chance of errors caused by illegible handwriting and reduces the potential for confusion around what medication or dose has been ordered.

Here are a few simple things you can do to be an informed health care consumer:

  • Don’t hesitate to speak up if something doesn’t seem right to you
  • Ask questions until you get a satisfactory answer
  • Repeat back to clinicians in your own words what they have told you to be sure you’ve understood
  • Request instructions in writing and understand the overall plan for your care
  • Know how you can participate in your care to achieve goals– ask about the realistic goals you should be working toward and make sure they are goals you agree with
  • Know the members of your health care team – ask them to introduce themselves
  • Observe health care providers washing their hands or using hand sanitizer before touching you – remind them if you don’t see it
  • Keep careful track of your medical history, medications, and allergies and update your providers of changes at each visit
  • Clarify a prescription that does not make sense and tell your doctor if you do not intend to take a prescribed medication– they may be able to offer you alternatives
  • Take medication only as prescribed – talk with your doctor if a prescription is not working for you
  • Ask about all possible treatment options and review the risks and benefits of each with your health care provider
  • Bring a family member or friend with you to the hospital or office visit and ask them to listen to instructions with you and ask questions too
  • When possible, arrange to get recommended laboratory tests done before a visit
  • Sign up for MyHealth Online for secure electronic access to your medical records!

This week we will be posting daily blogs with perspectives on safety and letting you know how you can partner with us on patient safety. Answer the question at the end of each daily blog and be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card made possible by our partnership with the New England Federal Credit Union. Thank you for joining us in recognizing National Patient Safety Awareness Week and for your participation!

Partner with us, speak up, and don’t leave patient safety to chance!


The Office of Patient Safety at the University of Vermont Medical Center

National Patient Safety Foundation. (2017). Education & resources: For patients and families. Retrieved from

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