Be a wise consumer

Patient safety, medication errors and medical incidents are not only a concern of patients, their families, caregivers, and advocates but also of health-care providers, the health-care industry and the various levels of government. Prevention is the key; however the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC) acknowledges that some incidents may be neither foreseen nor preventable.

For more than a decade, delegates at the Annual General Meetings of the Association have identified health care as a priority consumer issue. The Association has again identified this as a priority in the coming year. Each year, this issue presents itself as a greater critical challenge.

The Consumers’ Association of Canada advises consumers to be informed and active participants in their health, well-being and health care. The pamphlet, “Your MedicineÉ Be A Wise Consumer,” is just one example of the many ways in which the Association provides information to consumers to help address patient safety. CAC also identified several decades ago that consumers have certain rights in health care including:

  • to be informed of all aspects of their care including information about medication indications and safety
  • to be respected as the individual with a major responsibility for his or her own health care
  • the right to participate in decision making affecting his or her health
  • the right to equal access to health care regardless of the individual’s economic status, sex, age, creed, ethnic origin and location

CAC also believes that there is a role for family members, care givers and patient advocates to speak on behalf of a consumer who is unable or unwilling to do so, within the parameters of patient privacy and confidentiality. Health-care professionals can also play an important coordinating role in facilitating advocacy in the care of a patient.

Consumer rights also mean that consumers have a number of responsibilities including:

  • the need to ask questions-ask about risks, benefits and possible side effects of medications or medical procedures
  • to become informed of all aspects of their care including information about medication indications and safety
  • to comply with instructions regarding medications
  • to inform the practitioner about other medications including over-the- counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products being taken
  • to report any known allergies to the health-care team

When an incident occurs, especially when an adverse event occurs, there needs to be a continuation of the partnership among health-care providers and their patients. Everyone needs to be able to address such events in a remedial, not punitive, manner. It is important that incidents are reported, collated, and analyzed. The knowledge gained from incidents can facilitate changes to prevent their recurrence.

Consumers need to be able to report incidents without fear of reprisal. The reporting has to be convenient and easy to access. Similarly health-care providers need to report incidents – including near misses – so that appropriate action to prevent recurrences can be made. The principle is remediation, not punishment.

The Consumers’ Association of Canada welcomes the initiative within the Marketed Health Products Directorate of Health Canada regarding the reporting of adverse reaction information on health products. In addition, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada has been involved in a number of patient safety initiatives. By facilitating an enabling environment for patients, health-care providers and other stakeholders to report medication near misses and errors, medical incidents and other safety issues, positive patient outcomes should be the result.