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Speak Up

The Speak Up program, sponsored by The Joint Commission, urges patients to get involved in their care. Such efforts to increase consumer awareness and involvement are supported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This initiative provides simple advice on how you, as the patient, can make your care a positive experience. After all, research shows that patients who take part in decisions about their healthcare are more likely to have better outcomes.

Speak up if you have questions or concerns.

  • Your health is too important to worry about being embarrassed if you don't understand something that your doctor or nurse tells you.
  • If you are having surgery, ask the doctor to mark the area that is to be operated upon.
  • Don't be afraid to tell the nurse or the doctor if you think you are about to receive the wrong medication.
  • Don't hesitate to tell the healthcare professional if you think he or she has confused you with another patient.

Pay attention to the care you are receiving.

  • Tell your nurse or doctor if something doesn’t seem right.
  • Expect healthcare workers to introduce themselves when they enter your room.
  • Notice whether your caregivers have washed their hands and ask them to wash their hands. Hand washing is the most important way to prevent the spread of infections. Don’t be afraid to ask a nurse or doctor to do this.
  • Make sure your nurse or doctor confirms your identity.

Educate yourself about your diagnosis and your medical tests.

  • Ask your doctor about the specialized training and experience that qualifies him or her to treat your illness.
  • Gather information about your condition. Good sources include your doctor, your library, respected websites and support groups.
  • Write down important facts your doctor tells you, so that you can look for additional information later.
  • Thoroughly read all medical forms and make sure you understand them before you sign anything. If you don’t understand, ask your doctor or nurse to explain them.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the operation of any equipment that is being used in your care.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.

  • Your advocate can ask questions that you may not think of while you are under stress.
  • Your advocate also can help remember answers to questions you have asked and speak up for you if you can’t.
  • Make sure this person understands your preferences for care and your wishes concerning resuscitation and life support.
  • Make sure your advocate understands the type of care you will need when you get home. Your advocate should know what to look for if your condition is getting worse and whom to call for help.
  • Talk to your doctor and advocate about your wishes regarding life-saving actions.

Know what medications you take and why you take them.

  • If you do not recognize a medicine, double-check that it is for you. Ask about medications that you are to take by mouth before you swallow them. Read the contents of the bags of intravenous (IV) fluids. If you’re not well enough to do this, ask 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 doesn’t seem to be dripping right (too fast or too slow).
  • Whenever you get 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. Ask someone at the doctor’s office to print the prescription if necessary.
  • Carry an up-to-date list of the medicines you are taking in your purse or wallet. Write down how much you take and when you take it. Go over the list with your doctor and other caregivers.

Use a hospital that has undergone a rigorous on-site evaluation against standards, such as that provided by The Joint Commission.

  • Ask about the healthcare organization’s experience in treating your type of illness.
  • If you have more than one hospital to choose from, ask your doctor which one offers the best care for your condition.
  • Before leaving the hospital, ask about follow-up care and make sure you understand all instructions.
  • Go to Quality Check at to find out whether your hospital or other healthcare organization is accredited.

Participate in all decisions about your treatment.

  • 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, how long the treatment will last and how you should feel.
  • More tests or medications may not always be better. 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 healthcare team.
  • Don’t 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.
  • Ask to speak to others who have had the same treatment or operation you may have to have. They may help you prepare for the days and weeks ahead.

If you have a patient safety concern or suggestion, call (573) 458-7233 (SAFE).

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