Worried about healthcare? You can play an active role in your safety


We read and hear a lot about things not going right during the delivery of healthcare.

Patient safety is the reduction of errors and adverse effects on patients associated with health care. Both patients and health professionals have a role to play in patient safety. Health service providers have a responsibility to ensure that safe care is provided to patients. There are measures that patients or their loved ones can take to facilitate safety of their own care. A patient’s role in safety starts with being engaged and being actively involved in one’s care, seeking clarity when unsure and making an effort to understand one’s medical condition.

Preparing for a consultation with a health professional or doctor

Doctors rely on the history of symptoms and complaints presented by patients or their care givers. It is important that patients give truthful information during the consultation because this information forms the basis of the consultation, investigations, diagnosis and care. It is always advisable for patients to keep note of their symptoms; when they started, what aggravates them and what relieves them. During the consultation patients are expected to share family history, their past medical and surgical history. Importantly is the information on alcohol consumption and drug use because of their potential impact on drug interactions and the ability of the liver to breakdown some of the medications.

Patients also need to bring the relevant medical information like medications they are currently taking, medical reports and any other results, such as X-rays. This is also important for facilitation of continuation of care when being referred to another health professional or choosing to change practitioners. It is advisable that a report on past medical history be requested from the current doctor when relocating or opting to change practitioners for whatever reason. This will facilitate continuation of care, reduce duplication of services and reduce costs.


It is advisable that information related to medication, recreational drugs and use of traditional medication be shared during the consultation. This is important because some medications have side effects which may be trigger for consultation because of discomfort. Some medications interact with others making them less effective and even toxic. The doctor’s may prescribe incorrectly when this information is withheld. It is for the patient’s safety to share information related to chronic diseases and whether chronic medication is being taken as prescribed. There are patients who find it difficult to remember the names of medication they are on and it is advisable that they keep an empty pocket or cut out label of their medication in their wallets for ease of access when the need arise. Another option is to take a picture of the label and store on the phone for ease of access.

It is important that you take medication as advised by a health practitioner. Antibiotics should be taken a directed and the course be completed to prevent antibiotic resistance. Should it happen that a patient experience side effects, they are advised to consult their health practitioner for advice and not to stop treatment on their own. Allergies to certain types of medication and food should be communicated at all times even when collecting medication from the pharmacy to as a final safety net.

Admission and discharge from hospital

Hospital admissions may be planned or unplanned. Planned admissions are normally preceded by patient education and pre-admission consultation. This allows the patient to get more information and ask questions about the planned admission and the care plan. Information about when to stop eating and drinking will be shared with patients who will undergo anaesthesia. This measure is important for prevention of vomiting and other related complications. It is critical that patients inform the healthcare team if a mistake happened and they failed to comply with these instructions. This will assist the doctor to conduct a risk-benefit analysis and decide whether to go ahead with the procedure or delay it for the patient’s own safety. Patients who vomit during surgery may complicate and develop pneumonia, end up in ICU and even die. On discharge patients need to comply with discharge instructions and ensure that follow-up instructions are understood to ensure continuation of care.

Blood tests, biopsy and other test results

The doctor might order some tests to assist with diagnosis or to monitor clinical progress. It is important for patients to ensure they obtain results of these investigations whether during a face-to-face consultation or telephonically. Importantly, is following up when one doesn’t hear from the doctor. Patients are advised to ask about the turn-around-time for various tests so they can note when there is a delay. No news does not necessarily mean good news.

Patient safety is facilitated by taking responsibility for one’s health, being engaged in one’s own care and staying informed about one’s medical conditions.

Dr Brenda Kubheka is from Health IQ Consulting, which provides risk management, quality improvement and clinical ethics services in the health sector.

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