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Speak Up

Your life might depend on it

My name is Brandon and before we get started, I have a quick exercise I’d like to start off with. Take a moment to think of four good friends or family members: your favorite aunt, or your favorite child. With them in mind and including yourself - statistics say at least one of you have experienced a medical error while receiving health care. As an educator and music teacher, I often tell my students the more correct version of the quote we’ve all heard a hundred times, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” As lovely and true as I find it, and as much as my students might roll eyes at it, it’s certainly relevant in the world of healthcare.

One thing to keep in mind is that the onus of our wellbeing is on us. Being a better communicator and taking a proactive role in your care is a no-cost, powerful tool in error prevention. Instead of seeing yourself as a subject being treated by others, realize that you are an active member of your healthcare team. We’ll get to cover some common mistakes you should be on the lookout for and offer helpful strategies on how to avoid them.

Have you ever received a prescription from a doctor that was impossible to read? I can tell you that during my time assisting a physician, I saw this on a daily basis. Lucky for those patients I knew to translate the message before sending them on their way. Illegibility is so common that when it happens, most of us just accept it, content with squinting our way through the partially curved lines and dotted squiggles. We are here to say that it is OK to ask your provider to rewrite a prescription so that it’s more easily read. Doctors are trained in shorthand and aren’t doing this on purpose, and a friendly request to have things written clearly can go a long way in avoiding potentially serious errors.

Ever meet someone for the first time and as they introduce themselves you immediately forget their name? For instance, without scrolling to the beginning of this post, do you remember my name? I won’t take it personally that most of you likely could not recall. It happens to the best of us, and age and poor memory have less to do with it than you might think. Lack of context is a big part of what’s going on here. Without context, a name easily becomes just a word floating around the mind that the brain quickly determines to be irrelevant. The same principle is at work when hearing about a newly prescribed medication for the first time. I need to take it how many times a day? In the morning and at night? Do I take that one on an empty stomach? If this sounds familiar, here are some tips to assure you are steering clear of common medicine errors.

Ask your provider:

  • What the medicine is for

  • How you should be taking it and for how long

  • What the common side effects are and what to do if you experience any

  • Any foods, activities, or other medicines to avoid while on it

Be sure to keep asking until you feel completely comfortable and confident that you know what you are taking and why. If you feel like you’ve asked the doctor the same question a hundred times – feel free to keep asking – or direct the question to your pharmacist when you pick up the medication. If it seems that your providers are busy, it’s because they are, but each one of them wants to make sure you are safe. If you have a gut feeling that something isn't right - Speak Up.


I’ve only touched on the more common issues to be on the lookout for. And if this all feels a bit overwhelming, we want you to know that you don’t have to navigate these issues alone.

Professional care management can help you keep track of the many moving parts of your care and teach you how to advocate for yourself. To have someone by your side to make sure you and your providers have an up-to-date list of your medications is a powerful tool. Someone that knows your treatment plan and can remind you about all the little details easily forgotten due to medical jargon you don’t understand. Let a care management team coordinate with all the specialties to make sure all your providers are on the same page and have all the information they need to make safe, informed decisions. Enjoy the confidence in knowing someone is there to explain why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you, or to discuss with your provider about whether it’s truly necessary.

Maintaining our health can seem like an impossible trip over treacherous terrain for some of us. It is our hope that you have gained some insight into how to navigate such a landscape a bit more carefully and with more ease than before. If you have considered and taken to heart our suggestions, then the good news is you’re in great hands - your own. And for those who need that extra bit of help on their journey, we are here and ready to help in any way you need.

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