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U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

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Federal Employee Health Benefit Program

RI 70-1 For Federal Civilian Employees

Preventing Medical Mistakes

An influential 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 additional treatments. By asking questions, learning more, and understanding your risks, you can improve the safety of your health care, and that of your family. Take these simple steps:

  1. Ask questions if you have doubts or concerns.
    • Ask questions and make sure you understand the answers.
    • Choose a doctor with whom you feel comfortable talking.
    • Take a relative or friend with you to help you ask questions and understand answers.

  2. Keep and bring a list of all the medicines you take.
    • Give your doctor and pharmacist a list of all the medicines that you take, including non-prescription medicines.
    • Tell them about any drug allergies you have.
    • Ask about side effects and what to avoid while taking the medicine.
    • Read the label when you get your medicine, including all warnings.
    • Make sure your medicine is what the doctor ordered and know how to use it.
    • Ask the pharmacist about your medicine if it looks different than you expected.

  3. Get the results of any test or procedure.
    • Ask when and how you will get the results of tests or procedures.
    • Don't assume the results are fine if you do not get them when expected, be it in person, by phone, or by mail.
    • Call your doctor and ask for your results.
    • Ask what the results mean for your care.

  4. Talk to your doctor about which hospital is best for your health needs.
    • Ask your doctor which hospital has the best care and results for your condition if you have more than one hospital from which to choose
    • Be sure you understand the instructions you get about follow-up care when you leave the hospital.

  5. Make sure you understand what will happen if you need surgery.
    • Make sure you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done during the operation.
    • Ask your doctor, "Who will manage my care when I am in the hospital?"
    • Ask your surgeon:
      Exactly what will you be doing?
      About how long will it take?
      What will happen after surgery?
      How can I expect to feel during recovery?
    • Tell the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses about any allergies, bad reaction to anesthesia, and any medications you are taking.

Want more information on patient safety?

  • A tool to provide you with information on how well the hospital in your area care for their adult patients suffering from heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality make available a wide-ranging list of topics from patient safety to choosing quality healthcare providers to improving the quality of care you receive.
  • A source for finding and comparing accredited healthcare organizations, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and settings for addictions, children and youth services, and community ,mental health facilities.
  • The Leapfrog Group is active in promoting safe practices in hospital care.

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