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Key Facts for Patients and Families
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What do we mean when we talk about patient safety?

Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers dedicate their lives to caring for patients. But providing health care is not simple.


There are often many steps involved in a single health care visit. A number of different care providers may be take part in the care of a single patient. And it is not unusual for patients to be confused by medical terms and language.


Although hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices work very hard to keep their patients safe, errors can happen. Often, medical errors (also called adverse events) happen when there is a single misstep in a series of actions.


Working harder or being smarter is not the answer. Health care workers and organizations create systems that make it easy for health care providers to give safe care, and harder to provide unsafe care. For example, most physicians in the U.S. today prescribe medications by using computer systems, rather than with handwritten prescriptions. This reduces the chance of confusion about the drug that is intended for the patient because it is easier for the pharmacist or nurse to read a computer printout than handwriting.


But safety gaps or errors in care do happen, and they can happen in any health care setting.


At the doctor’s office:

Some of the most common problems in doctors’ offices involve communication. For example, if your doctor orders a blood test, and the results get overlooked, it may delay a diagnosis. Missed, delayed, or wrong diagnosis is one of the most common errors in physician practices.


Read the Checklist for Getting the Right Diagnosis.

In the pharmacy:

Medication errors are among the most common medical errors in all settings. For example, a medication dispensing error is when the wrong drug is given to the patient. This can happen because many drug names sound like other drug names or look like other drug names in print.


Read more about Pharmacy Safety and Service.

In the hospital:

Most of the research and effort in patient safety to date has been done in hospitals. One of the most common safety issues in hospitals are infections that could have been prevented.


Read Preventing Infections in the Hospital.


Read or download the Post-Discharge Tool.

In an outpatient surgery center:

Like hospitals, outpatient surgery centers pose risks such as infections.


Read Preventing Infections in the Hospital.

In rehabilitation and long-term care facilities:

The safety of patients in long-term care facilities is a growing concern as our population ages. These settings deal with many of the same issues as hospitals.

In the home:

Only the sickest patients stay in the hospital for any length of time. Many patients with chronic conditions or in recovery from surgery must care for themselves at home. Family or loved ones who help them need to know the basics of patient safety.


Read Safety as You Go from Hospital to Home.

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10/24/2019 » 10/30/2019
Patient Safety Executive Development Program

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