What Can One Person Do to Improve Health Care Quality?

August 29, 2012

Because our current health care system places patients in the position of caveat emptor (“Buyer Beware”), we cannot currently rely upon medical providers to maintain, much less implement, even basic patient safety protocols. Just a few examples include (1) your assuming that a doctor complies with hand hygiene, or (2) that hospitals wipe surfaces clean with microbe-destroying chemicals, or (3) that your clinician has actually read your chart.

These issues are being addressed. But meanwhile, to protect yourself, there are many simple actions you can take to improve your care quality.


Don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if you think you already know the answer. Easy-to-find resources exist to assist you with getting needed information. The Joint Commission’s “Speak Up” campaign promotes health care quality through patient education.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s “Questions Are the Answer” program promotes patient education and health literacy by formulating questions to ask your provider as well as furnishing a template to help create a punch list applicable to multiple situations. A third resource is the National Patient Safety Foundation’s “Ask Me 3” initiative. As the title indicates, there are three basic questions to ask in any health care communication.

Perform self-assessments.

The Mayo Clinic’s website provides several resources to help you evaluate your health, including a symptom checker as well as information and strategies to pursue a healthy lifestyle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides quick self-evaluation tools about medical health issues.

Be a Medical Detective.

Seek out credible information about your areas of concern. If the url ends in “.edu,” it is usually a trustworthy website. Government agencies, with url’s ending in “.gov,” are also reliable. Don’t be discouraged if you find credible information that contradicts itself. Medical practice includes many inconsistencies that reflect the evolution of scientific research as well as various ideologies among practitioners. A good place to begin your investigation is with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. You will find guidance and tools to pursue a healthful lifestyle and learn when a symptom should be of concern. Not all nonprofit foundations are as reliable as government agencies and educational institutions, but the big players, such as the American Heart Association or the National Breast Cancer Foundation, are credible and fairly current on state-of-the-art practice.

Another resource: Consumers Advancing Patient Safety offer a toolkit designed to aid health care consumers to take control over their care.

Make Like an Aviator.

Use checklists. The medical field is gradually introducing checklists as a tool for patient safety, based upon the practice’s long-term success among airplane pilots. The Empowered Patient Coalition, a nonprofit foundation, is a great resource for fact sheets and checklists that help you advocate for yourself. You will find resources to help make informed healthcare decisions and learn simple but effective patient safety protocols.

It Takes a Village.

Have you noticed, or fallen victim to, a medical error? Even if no harm came of it, practitioners need to know so that they can implement corrective action. Your report might be the tipping point for saving someone else’s life! The above-mentioned Empowered Patient Coalition makes it easy to report by encouraging online reporting of medical errors.

Yes, it is really the medical provider’s responsibility to oversee patient safety. But until health care in the U.S. improves, it’s wise to adopt the above safe practices to ensure the safety of you and your family when you inevitably interact with the current fragmented system.

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