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Los Alamos Medical Center joined with hospitals and other healthcare organizations throughout the country in marking National Patient Safety Awareness Week recently. The week is defined by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) as a national education and awareness-building campaign for improving patient safety at the local level.LAMC’s Director of Quality and Risk Management Jan Grosse, RN, MS, says the patient – and his or her role at the hospital and in the physician office – is a major focus of this important education effort.“Patient safety is the ruling component of patient care at LAMC,” Grosse said. “Patient safety rules from the initial contact with the patient when we obtain identifying information, through a well-planned, patient-involved discharge.”It is the “patient-involved” concept at the center of this year’s awareness campaign, Grosse said. “Patient safety involves effective communication among all members of the team. It is very important to recognize that the patient is not only the provider team’s focus but also a participating member of that team.”Grosse said many of the hospital’s patient safety activities are directed toward “ensuring that the right information is communicated at the right time, the right way, to the right people,” including the patient him or herself.“The goal of patient safety in hospitals across the country is to eliminate/reduce medical errors,” she said, adding, “Activities for patient safety are those that are undertaken to protect patients from being harmed while seeking health care services.” That’s where the patient’s own role becomes paramount.“Patients need to ask questions, make sure they agree with the treatment plan, and follow the treatment plan,” she said, “and if they cannot, they need to communicate back” to providers, whether that be a nurse on a hospital floor or their physician in his or her office.In addition to a patient’s participation, the healthcare team itself has numerous obligations to maintain safety, she said. “Other examples of patient safety activity at LAMC may be acquisition of new technology and training of staff to use it correctly; maintaining a clean environment and hand-washing to prevent infection; verifying patient identity prior to performing diagnostic tests; and observation of the National Patient Safety Goals as set forth by The Joint Commission (TJC).“We celebrate National Patient Safety Awareness Week by formally recognizing the activities that we do everyday for our patients’ safety and to reinforce that everyday it’s every individual who can make the difference. It’s very important to remember that the patient is not only the focus of the team but also a participating member.”The National Patient Safety Foundation is an independent not-for-profit organization that has been, according to its website, npsf.org, “diligently pursuing one mission since its founding in 1997 – to improve the safety of patients. A decade later, NPSF remains the sole organization in the field with this singular focus.”“NPSF”, says its introductory information, “also occupies a unique position in this field by virtue of its inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach. From the composition of its Board to the structure of its programs, NPSF fosters collaboration on the issue of patient safety.”The foundation issues the following recommendations:• What You Can Do to Make Healthcare Safer.If a medical error occurs, it is often a result of a series of small failures that are individually not big enough to cause an accident, but combined can result in an error. Patients can ensure a safer experience with the health care system by being involved and informed about their treatment. Improving patient safety requires continuous learning and constant communication between caregivers, organizations and patients. Everyone has a role in patient safety, and everyone will benefit from its successes.• What can consumers do to make sure they have a safer experience with the healthcare system?NPSF suggests these steps to help make your health care experience safer:Become a more informed health care consumer.Seek information about illnesses or conditions that affect you.Research options and possible treatment plans.Choose a doctor, clinic, pharmacy, and hospital experienced in the type of care you require.Ask questions of your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or benefits plan coordinator.Seek more than one opinion.Keep track of your history.Write down your medical history including any medical conditions you have, illnesses, immunizations, allergies, hospitalizations, all medications and dietary supplements you’re taking, and any reactions or sensitivities you’ve experienced.Write down the names and phone numbers of your doctors, clinics, and pharmacies for quick and easy reference.Work with your doctor and other health care professionals as a team.Share your health history with your care team.Share up-to-date information about your care with everyone who’s treating you.Make sure you understand the care and treatment you’ll be receiving. Ask questions if you’re not clear on your care.Pay attention. If something doesn’t seem right, call it to the attention of your doctor or healthcare professional.Discuss any concerns about your safety with your healthcare team.Involve a family member or friend in your care.If you’re not able to observe or participate fully in your care, ask a family member or friend to assist. They can accompany you on appointments or stay with you, help you ask questions, understand care instructions and suggest your preferences.Follow the treatment plan agreed upon by you and your doctor.Be sure you receive all instructions verbally and in writing that you can read and understand. Ask questions about any instructions that are confusing or unclear.Take medications exactly as prescribed.Use home medical equipment and supplies only as instructed.Report anything unusual to your doctor.Wendy Hoffman is public relatios director for Los Alamos Mediucal Center.