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10 Things You Can Do to Be a Safe Patient

Doctors consulting with patientsLearn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from infections.

People receiving medical care can get serious infections called healthcare-associated infections, which may lead to sepsis or death. Healthcare-associated infections are not limited to hospitals. They can happen wherever patients receive medical care – outpatient clinics, dialysis centers, and long-term care facilities, but are often associated with the devices used in medical procedures, such as catheters or ventilators.

Infections in healthcare can be caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, making them difficult to treat. Although national progress is being made to prevent infections in healthcare, more work is needed – especially in fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria. As a patient, you can help prevent the spread of infections and improve antibiotic use.

Patient consulting with patient who is in hospital bed

Talk to your doctor about any worries you have about your safety.

Surgeon holding syringe

Healthcare providers should never reuse a needle or syringe on more than one patient.

Doctor's hands holding patient's hands

Learn how you can be safe patient.

Here are 10 things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones:

Be informed. Be empowered. Be prepared.

  1. Speak up. Talk to your doctor about all questions or worries you have. Ask them what they are doing to protect you.
  2. Keep hands clean. Make sure everyone, including friends and family, clean their hands before touching you.
    If you don’t see your healthcare providers clean their hands, remember to ask them to do so.
  3. Ask each day if your central line catheter or urinary catheter is necessary. Leaving a catheter in place too long increases the chances of getting an infection. Let your doctor or nurse know immediately if the area around the central line becomes sore or red, or if the bandage falls off or looks wet or dirty.
  4. Prepare for surgery. Ask your doctor how he/she prevents surgical site infections and how you can prepare for surgery. Let your doctor know about any medical problems you have.
  5. Ask your healthcare provider, "Will there be a new needle, new syringe, and a new vial for this procedure or injection?" Insist that your healthcare providers never reuse a needle or syringe on more than one patient.
  6. Get Smart about antibiotics. Ask if tests will be done to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed in the proper dosage, frequency and duration. Remember that antibiotics don't work against viruses like the ones that cause the common cold.
  7. Watch out for deadly diarrhea (aka Clostridium difficile). Tell your doctor if you have 3 or more diarrhea episodes in 24 hours, especially if you have been taking an antibiotic.
  8. Know the signs and symptoms of infection. Some skin infections, such as MRSA, appear as redness, pain, or drainage at an IV catheter site or surgery site and come with a fever. Infections can also lead to sepsis, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and other infection signs. Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms.
  9. Get vaccinated. Getting yourself, family, friends and caregivers vaccinated against the flu and other infections to help prevent spread of disease.
  10. Cover your mouth and nose. When you sneeze or cough, germs can travel 3 or more feet. Use a tissue and to avoid spreading germs with your hands.

Infections in healthcare are not only a problem for healthcare facilities – they represent a public health issue that requires many people and organizations to work together in a comprehensive effort to attack these largely preventable infections. CDC is working with partners and states to implement infection prevention tools toward the elimination infections in healthcare. For more information on how you can be a safe patient, visit: Patient Safety: What You Can Do to Be a Safe Patient.

Visit United for Patient Safety to see how you can make healthcare safer.