Patients can protect themselves from medical errors

In the past few years, there has been considerable publicity concerning medical errors. State and federal regulators, accrediting agencies and health care providers, including Blount Memorial Hospital, have studied data and standardized and instituted new processes to eliminate errors. All of these entities have come to the same conclusion. Surprisingly, the most important action to eliminate errors is very simple, and is to correctly identify the patient.

This is Patient Safety Awareness Week, which is a national education and awareness-building campaign for improving patient safety at the local level. Hospitals and health care organizations across the country are encouraged to promote patient safety within their own facilities, including educating patients on how to become involved in their own health care. This week also reminds us of the national importance of the No. 1 patient safety goal, which is to use two patient identifiers in any patient interaction. For example, Blount Memorial Hospital, at all of its locations, uses a patient’s name and date of birth for those identifiers.

Health care workers have undergone hours of training and education on practices that reduce errors. Unfortunately, the most important component of the health care process has not been educated. That is you - the patient. As a patient, what can you do to help this process? Each time you have an interaction with a health care provider, the first step should be that of patient identification, and it should involve two identifiers. If an identification process does not take place, always make sure you speak up. As a patient, you should initiate the process. Ask the provider to state your name. If they provide your name, ask if they have another identifier: date of birth, home address, phone number or social security number - any of these will work. There are many common names in Blount County; and the second identifier will ensure that the health care worker has the correct person.

It is easy to understand why the identification process is important when you are receiving treatments, medications and tests, or undergoing a procedure. But, even answering questions about your past medical history, the medications you are taking and your allergies can be critical if they don’t become part of your medical record. Make sure every interaction in a health care setting, even if it just involves answering questions, starts with the identification process first. Remember, speak up.

Being repeatedly asked your name and date of birth may seem like a hassle, but being part of a medical error can have critical, or even deadly, consequences. Being part of the solution includes being a part of this prevention process. So, when asked for your identifiers, give them. If you are not asked, ask the health care provider for your name and a second identifier. Your participation in this process is an important part of protecting yourself when receiving health care.

John Bleazey is the laboratory manager for Blount Memorial Hospital.

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