Tips for Preventing Medical Mistakes
En Español (Spanish Version)

Medical mistakes are a common topic in the news—from accidental drug overdose to hospital acquired infection to surgical mistakes. These mistakes cost millions each year and, in the worst cases, cause major illness, disability, or death. The government and medical institutions are taking many steps to decrease the rates of medical errors, but you have an important role as well. Taking an active role in your healthcare can help prevent medical errors. The following is a list of recommendations to help you stay well:

Outside the Hospital
  • Keep a record of your medical history, including lab, medications, x-rays, and procedure reports.
  • Call about test results if you do not receive them in the time expected.
  • Tell every doctor about your allergies, as well as any medications, supplements, and herbal remedies you take.
  • Document adverse reactions to medications.
  • Make a list of your doctors, your pharmacies, and other providers. Give it to new members of your healthcare team.
  • Research the credentials of any potential provider.
  • Take a list of questions to your doctor’s visit. Write down the answers or ask someone to go to the appointment with you.
  • If your English skills are limited, have a translator go with you to your doctor's appointments.
  • Make sure you can read prescriptions.
  • Ask what drugs are for, the amount you should be taking, how to take them, and potential side effects.
  • If you need a procedure, ask who will administer the anesthesia and insist on meeting the person to review your medical needs. Ask how you will be monitored.
  • Check the hospital’s reputation, its accreditation, and Magnet status. Magnet status is an award given to hospitals that have outstanding nurses.
In the Hospital
  • Remind caregivers to wash their hands. It prevents the spread of infection. Or post a sign.
  • Remind caregivers to wear gloves or masks.
  • If you are having surgery, make sure they mark the correct site.
  • Ask the name of the registered nurse responsible for your care during each shift. If you have a question, direct it to him or her.
  • Avoid distracting caregivers while they provide care. Wait until the task is finished.
  • Check medications before swallowing. If they do not look right, ask.
  • Remind staff about allergies, especially for things routinely used, such as latex or iodine.
  • Understand why tests are being done.
  • Before leaving, understand what follow-up care you will need and how you will get it.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

National Patient Safety Foundation

Canadian Patient Safety Institute

20 tips to prevent medical errors: Patient fact sheet. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: Published September 2011. Accessed May 2, 2014.

Medical errors: tips to help prevent them. website. Available at: Updated November 2010. Accessed May 2, 2014.

Last Reviewed May 2014

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