Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates gave this advice about the practice of medicine: "First, do no harm."

To maximize patient safety, health care providers and patients need to partner effectively during the delivery of health care. There is much patients can do to ensure safety when receiving medical care.
  •  Actively participate in every decision regarding your health care. Talk with your doctor about planned treatments and expected results. If you are uncomfortable talking with your doctor, designate an advocate, such as a relative or friend, to go with you and speak for you.
  • Tell your doctor about your medications, allergies and adverse reactions to medications you've had in the past. Even if you think these things are all noted in your medical records, it never hurts to mention them. Good communication is the key to partnering with your medical team.
  • Keep a record of all medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements you take. This is important in case your doctor gives you a new prescription. Sometimes supplements or medicines that are helpful by themselves can cause a harmful reaction when combined.
  • Don't leave the doctor's office until you understand when and how to take your medications. When you get a prescription, ask what the medication does and what the possible side effects are.
  • Do a little homework. Learn as much as you can about your illness, the treatment plans available and any tests your doctor may conduct. If you need surgery, ensure you and the surgeon agree on exactly what is going to be done, including the surgeon marking the surgical site. And ask your provider when, where and how you will get the results of a procedure or test.
  • Remember that no one knows as much about how you feel as you do. As a partner in your own care, you can help the rest of the team keep you healthy.

-- David N. Tornberg
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Clinical and Program Policy