You are the most important member of your health care team.  We encourage you to become an active, involved and informed participant on the health care team.


Speak up if you have questions or concerns.  If you still don’t understand, ask again.  It is your body and you have a right to know.

  • Do not be afraid to tell the nurse or doctor if you think you are about to get the wrong medicine.
  • Do not be afraid to tell a health care professional if you think he or she has confused you with another resident.

Pay attention to the care you get.  Always make sure you are getting the right treatments and medications by the right health care professionals.  Do not assume anything.

  • Tell your nurse or doctor if something does not seem right.
  • Notice whether your caregivers have washed their hands. Hand washing is the most important way to prevent infections.  Do not be afraid to remind a nurse or doctor to do this.
  • Know what time of day you normally get medicine. If you do not get it, tell your nurse or doctor.

Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the medical tests you get, and your treatment plan.

  • Look for information about your condition. Good places to get that information are from your doctor, your case manager, your library, respected Web sites and support groups.
  • Write down important facts your doctor tells you. Ask your doctor if he or she has any written information you can keep.
  • Read all medical forms and make sure you understand them before you sign anything. If you do not understand, ask your doctor, nurse or case manager to explain them.
  • Make sure you know how to work any equipment that is being used in your care. If you use oxygen, do not smoke or let anyone smoke near you.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate (advisor or supporter).

  • Your advocate can ask questions that you may not think about when you are stressed.
  • Ask the person to stay with you, even overnight, when you are not yourself.
  • Make sure this person understands the kind of care you want. Make sure he or she knows what you want done about life support and other life-saving effort if you are unconscious and not likely to get better.

Know what medicines you take and why you take them.  Medicine errors are the most common health care mistakes.

  • Ask about why you should take the medicine. Ask for written information about it, including its brand and generic names.  Also ask about the side effects of all medicines.
  • If you do not recognize a medicine, double-check that it is for you. Ask about medicines that you are about to take by mouth before you swallow them.  Read the contents of the bags of intravenous (IV) fluids.  If you are not well enough to do this, as your advocate to do it.
  • If you are given an IV, ask the nurse how long it should take for the liquid to run out. Tell the nurse if it does not seem to be dripping right.
  • Whenever you get a new medicine, tell your doctors and nurses about allergies you have, or negative reactions you have had to other medicines.
  • If you are taking a lot of medicines, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to take those medicines together. Do the same thing with vitamins, herbs and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Make sure you can read the handwriting on prescriptions written by your doctor. If you cannot read it, the pharmacist may not be able to either.  Ask somebody at the doctor’s office to print the prescription, if necessary.

Use a hospital that has been carefully checked out.  For example, The Joint Commission visits hospitals to see if they are meeting quality standards.

  • Ask about the health care organization’s experience in taking care of people with your type of illness.
  • If you have more than one hospital to choose from, ask your doctor which one has the best care for your condition.
  • Before you leave the hospital, ask about follow-up care and make sure that you understand all of the instructions.
  • Go to Quality Check at to find out whether your hospital is “accredited.” Accredited means the hospital works by rules that make sure patient safety and quality standards are followed.

Participate in all decision about your treatment.  You are the center of the health care team.

  • You and your doctor should agree on exactly what will be done during each step of your care.
  • Know who will be taking care of you. Know how long the treatment will last.  Know how you should feel.
  • Understand that more tests or medication may not always be better for you. Ask your doctor how a new test or medication will help.
  • Keep copies of your medical records from previous hospital stays and share them with your health care team. This will give them better information about your health history.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion. If you are unsure about the best treatment for your illness, talk with one or two additional doctors. The more information you have about all the kinds of treatment available, the better you will feel about the decisions made.

Source: The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.

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