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Staying Safe While Navigating the Healthcare System: Top 5 Tips to Follow!

By Ailene Gerhardt, MA, BCPA, Founder Beacon Patient Advocates LLC

Research shows that when patients are engaged in their health care, it can lead to measurable improvements in safety and quality.   Here are 5 tips for staying safe as you or a loved one navigates the healthcare system:

1.      Take Charge of Your Health

2.      Be Prepared and Organized

3.      Know about Your Medications

4.      Stay Clear of Germs

5.      Reliable Resources to Learn about Your Treatment Provider and Location

1. Take Charge of Your Health

Speak Up: You are the most important member of your healthcare team. You have a right to ask questions, voice concerns and question anyone involved in your care. Make sure you have a lead partner on your healthcare team such as your primary care physician to serve as the coordinating clinician to serve as a point person about your health.

Bring Someone With You: Whether you are attending a medical appointment or being admitted as an inpatient in a hospital or other facility, bring someone with you. This person can assist you in many ways. S/he can help you prepare for a medical appointment/inpatient stay and  can serve as a prompt to help remind you of items you planned to ask or tell your clinician. This person can take notes for you and serve as an extra pair of eyes and ears during your appointment or stay in the hospital. S/he can help serve as your advocate if you feel your questions or concerns are not being answered. Identify a person to serve in this role ahead of time and review the role you’d like him/her to play – whether they are a family member, friend, or professional patient advocate.

Keep your healthcare team informed: Make sure that all of your clinicians/doctors know about all of the medicine you take including over-the-counter medications, supplements, vitamins, eye drops, and prescriptions. Make sure your health records accurately reflect your allergies and any adverse reactions you’ve had to particular medications. All of the health professionals involved in your care should have all important health information about you. Do not rely on your electronic health records to tell the complete story. Make sure you, or someone serving as your health proxy, are able to provide all details about your health history.

2. Be Prepared & Organized:

Understanding your health is complicated. Prepare for a medical appointment by writing down questions, prioritizing those questions and bringing all information about your medical history with you. Take notes or tape record conversations with clinicians. Ask your medical providers to explain things to you in “everyday” language. You need to be able to understand the information being delivered so that you can properly follow directions regarding care, medications or other treatment options. Ask about the tests being ordered, why they are needed, what is to be learned, and what the next steps might be.

Make sure your records are accurate. If you are preparing for a discharge from a hospital or other facility, review the information being provided in the discharge plan and confirm everything needed is included. Make lists of supplies needed at home post-discharge. Reach out to and organize the helpers for home care after discharge. Make a detailed list of who will do what when.

3. Know About Your Medications:

Know about your medications and why you take them. Know what the medication looks like, what proper dose is, and how often you are supposed to take the medication. Medication errors are one of the most common reasons people are re/admitted to the hospital.  

Ask for written information and instructions about your medications when they are prescribed and when you receive them at the pharmacy or in the mail. Seek reliable written information about medication side effects. Ask for a list of ingredients to confirm you are not allergic. Confirm that you can clearly read a written prescription your doctor has provided for you. This is an important way to prevent incorrect medication errors.

Pharmacists are excellent resources. Ask him/her to explain a medication label or the best way/tool/device to measure and take a liquid medication.

4. Stay Clear of Germs:

Germs are everywhere whether you are attending a routine doctor’s appointment or staying in a hospital/inpatient facility. Make sure everyone washes their hands before touching any patient. If that doesn’t happen, speak up. You may feel uncomfortable, but your health is important and proper hygiene is the best way not to spread infection.

When staying in the hospital or another inpatient facility bring, or have someone going with you bring,  antimicrobial wipes to clean high-touch surfaces such as bed rails, call buttons, door knobs, faucets, toilet levers, bedside tables, IV poles, wheelchairs, cell phones, and the tv remote.

Be vigilant. Make sure proper hygiene is utilized to avoid hospital hazards such as infections, falls, and bed sores.

5.  Reliable Resources to Learn about Your Treatment Provider and Location:

To find out information about a physician treating you:

National Websites to Check on Safety Statistics and Other Important Information:

Patient Safety Resources:

Information in this article was compiled in partnership with CampaignZERO: Families for Patient Safety. Visit their website: for patient safety resources and information, including useful checklists.

Other Patient Safety focused organizations:


Download your free hospital checklists at

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