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Preventing Medical Malpractice by involving patients and families

Engaging patients and their families can prevent medical errors and reduce harm to patients. In their latest report “Safety Is Personal: Partnering with Patients and Families for the Safest Care” the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute is advocating for the inclusion of patients and families in clinical activities, health care design and delivery as well as policy development.

The report points out that the actual health system makes it difficult for patients and families to partner with care providers in order to improve patient safety. Lack of access to health records, intimidation or fear of retribution promoted by a generally paternalistic professional culture as well as a lack of easy to understand tools and checklists are among the many barriers that prevent a positive collaboration between the medical staff and the patient’s family.

The report calls for targeted education and training for health care clinicians and staff to give them skills to better engage patients in decisions and management of health problems and to redesign processes and systems to facilitate patient and family partnerships.

While firmly placing the responsibility for patient safety on health care providers and organizations, the report also urges patients, families, and the public to view themselves as full and active members of the health care team.

Here are a few recommendations for patients and their families:

• Ask questions about the risks and benefits of recommendations until you understand the answers.
• Don’t go alone to the hospital or to doctor visits.
• Always know why and how you take your medications, and their names.
• Be very sure you understand the plan of action for your care.
• Say back to clinicians in your own words what you think they have told you.
• Arrange to get any recommended lab tests done before a visit.
• Determine who is in charge of your care.