Take Charge of Your Own Safety

The overarching goal for health care providers is to “do no harm” and provide the best patient care possible. However, preventable adverse events such as hospital-acquired infections, pressure ulcers, and medication errors do occur, and sometimes at an alarming rate.

Remedial actions are often directed at providers, e.g., utilization of electronic health records (EHR), redundancies, and safeguards. However, recent research indicates that increased patient and family engagement may help prevent harm and reduce the likelihood of adverse events.1 Growing evidence suggests that patient engagement positively impacts the Triple Aim of:2,3

  • Improving health outcomes
  • Reducing costs
  • Enhancing experiences for patients and providers

Engaged patients show improved adherence to their medications,4,5 have better medical outcomes and care experiences,6 and are less inclined to file for malpractice litigation.7 Moreover, patient involvement lowers health costs for patients, employers, and health systems.8 In one study, HealthPartners accrued $88 cost reduction per patient when patients engaged in self-care.9

Patient Involvement

Recognizing importance of patient involvement, The Joint Commission in conjunction with CMS, launched the Speak Up™ campaign. Speak Up encourages patients to take charge of their safety and be active participants in their care. The program provides videos, infographics, brochures, posters, and podcasts to help patients ask their health care team questions regarding the why, when, what, where, and how of their medical treatment. Video resources include Speak Up: Prevent Errors in Your Care, Speak Up: Prevent the Spread of Infection, Speak Up: Preparing for Surgery, etc.

The Speak Up program encourages patients to:10

  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns. If you still don’t understand, ask again. It’s your body and you have a right to know.
  • Pay attention to the care you get. Always make sure you’re getting the right treatments and medicines by the right health care professionals. Don’t assume anything.
  • Educate yourself about your illness. Learn about the medical tests you get, and your treatment plan.
  • Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate (advisor or supporter).
  • Know what medicines you take and why you take them. Medicine errors are the most common health care mistakes.
  • Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center, or other type of health care organization that has been carefully checked out. For example, The Joint Commission visits hospitals to see if they are meeting The Joint Commission’s quality standards.
  • Participate in all decisions about your treatment. You are the center of the health care team.

Response to Speak Up has been overwhelmingly positive. A 2014 survey indicated that 80% of respondents were very likely or somewhat likely to recommend the program to a colleague and 62% believed the program educates and empowers patients to be involved in their care.10

Raise Your Hand

Similarly, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and Advertising Council launched the Questions Are the Answer campaign to encourage patients to ask questions and become more involved in their health care.11 The campaign offers tips on patient safety and a Question Builder tool to help develop a customized list of questions patients can ask their providers.


The World Health Organization (WHO) also launched a global patient safety program on the premise that safety will improve when patients are at the core of care and included as full partners.12 Patients for Patient Safety (PFPS) is designed to include the voices of patients and families to inform the global patient safety movement.

PFPS fosters partnerships amongst stakeholders (patients, providers, and policy-makers) by promoting empowerment and inspiring action. These parties may view health care from different angles but all want to make systemic improvements in the delivery of care and create a health care system that is safe, inclusive, and affordable.

What impact on patient safety have you seen from patient engagement initiatives?