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Patient Safety

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine estimates that up to 98,000 Americans die every year from medical mistakes in hospitals alone. That's about 3,230 preventable deaths in the FEHB Program a year. While death is the most tragic outcome, medical mistakes cause other problems such as permanent disabilities, extended hospital stays, longer recoveries, and even additional treatments. By asking questions, learning more and understanding your risks, you can improve the safety of your own health care, and that of your family members. Take these simple steps:

  1. Speak up if you have questions or concerns. Choose a doctor who you feel comfortable talking to about your health and treatment. Take a relative or friend with you if this will help you ask questions and understand the answers. It's okay to ask questions and to expect answers you can understand.

  2. Keep a list of all the medicines you take. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about the medicines that you take, including over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and dietary supplements like vitamins and herbals. Tell them about any drug allergies you have. Ask the pharmacist about side effects and what foods or other things to avoid while taking the medicine. When you get your medicine, read the label, including warnings. Make sure it is what your doctor ordered, and you know how to use it. If the medicine looks different than you expected, ask the pharmacist about it.

  3. Make sure you get the results of any test or procedure. Ask your doctor or nurse when and how you will get the results of tests or procedures. If you do not get them when expected -- in person, on the phone, or in the mail - don't assume the results are fine. Call your doctor and ask for them. Ask what the results mean for your care.

  4. Talk with your doctor and health care team about your options if you need hospital care. If you have more than one hospital to choose from, ask your doctor which one has the best care and results for your condition. Hospitals do a good job of treating a wide range of problems. However, for some procedures (such as heart bypass surgery), research shows results often are better at hospitals doing a lot of these procedures. Also, before you leave the hospital, be sure to ask about follow-up care, and be sure you understand the instructions.

  5. Make sure you understand what will happen if you need surgery. Ask your doctor and surgeon: Who will take charge of my care while I'm in the hospital? Exactly what will you be doing? How long will it take? What will happen after the surgery? How can I expect to feel during recovery? Tell the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses if you have allergies or have ever had a bad reaction to anesthesia. Make sure you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done during the operation.