Promoting Patient Safety

Involving patients and families is a critical piece in the pursuit of a safer health-care system. Patients and families play vital roles in identifying opportunities for improvement through informing the health-care system about their personal interactions with the system and being a fresh set of eyes in today’s complex and fast-paced environment. Patients and families may be the single-most valuable personal resource in safeguarding themselves and/or their loved ones while accessing health-care services.

The Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) was formed in 2003 and is mandated by the federal government to “build and advance a safer health-care system for Canadians.” One major area of focus for CPSI is the ‘empowerment of patients and their families with information and support.’ The CPSI launched Canadian Patient Safety Week in 2005 as a national annual campaign – this year slated for October 8-13, 2007, with the theme being, ‘Patient Safety: Be Involved. Ask. Talk. Listen.’ The driving principle behind the theme this year is communication and partnership towards achieving the safest possible care. This synergy is one of the primary goals of Patients for Patient Safety Canada, with whom CPSI has recently engaged in a more formal relationship towards building a national network of consumers who are passionate and competent towards partnering with health-care organizations and providers on system safety, patient/family centred care, and quality improvement initiatives.

CPSI has designed two ‘tips’ documents aimed at educating and encouraging consumers to get involved in their care; one is directed at patients, specifically, and the other at both patients and families ( Some of the tips for patients include:

  • Wash your hands when you visit the hospital or other health care environments and ask your healthcare provider to do the same.
  • Make your doctor aware if you have seen or are seeing more than one doctor about your problems.
  • When you visit the doctor or go to the hospital, bring your medications – or an updated list – with you (including over-the-counter medicines and herbal remedies).
  • Ask someone to be your health advocate to take notes, ask questions and if needed, make decisions on your behalf. Commit this to paper to be inserted into your medical chart(s).
  • Keep track of any adverse reactions or allergies you have to food or medications.
  • If you’re being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to write down any treatment plans or instructions you will need at home. This information should be shared with your family doctor as well.

In addition, several provincial bodies such as the Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety and the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), to name but a few, have designed similar campaigns aimed at educating and empowering consumers, as well as building understanding with the health-care provider community of the role patients and families can play. These campaigns range from offering advice ‘tips’ to consumers to including examples of questions to help cue or direct dialogue between patients, families and the health-care team.

The OHA is re-launching their patient tips campaign entitled, ‘Your Health Care – Be Involved’, following extensive consultation with patients and health-care providers. The redesign is in response to an evaluation of the initial campaign that incorporates the feedback of consumers and health-care providers to ensure the information in the brochure was clear, concise and appropriate. Your Health Care – Be Involved will be re-launched in conjunction with the national Healthcare Safety Symposium, which will be held during Canadian Patient Safety Week in our nation’s capital, Ottawa.

Familiarize yourself with the CPSI ‘tips’ and/or your provincial/local campaign. The next time you are in hospital or accessing other health-care services, use these tips to help you safeguard yourself and/or your loved ones. Minimizing the potential for harm as a result of health-care system breakdowns is on the forefront with any such campaign. Do your part and find out more about how you may use these tips to better understand, communicate and manage your health care.

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For more information on Patients for Patient Safety Canada, please contact Katarina Stanisic at