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SPEAK UP stands for...

  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
  • Pay attention to the care you get..
  • Educate yourself about your illness.
  • Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.
  • Know what medicines you take and why you take them.


  • Use a hospital, clinic or surgery center that has been carefully checked out.
  • Participate in all decisions about your treatment.

SPEAK UP for your health care

Here's some simple advice on how you, as a patient, can make your care a positive experience.

After all, research shows that patients who take part in decisions about their health care are more likely to have better outcomes.

Speak up if you have questions or concerns.

If you don't understand, ask again. It's your body and you have a right to know.

  • Your health is very important. Do not worry about being embarrassed if you don't understand something that your doctor, nurse or other health care professional tells you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask about safety. If you're having surgery, ask the doctor to mark the area that is to be operated on.
  • Don't be afraid to tell the nurse or the doctor if you think you are about to get the wrong medicine.
  • Don't be afraid to tell a health care professional if you think he or she has confused you with another patient.

Pay attention to the care you get.

Always make sure you're getting the right treatments and medicines by the right health care professionals. Don't assume anything.

  • Tell your nurse or doctor if something doesn't seem right.
  • Expect health care workers to introduce themselves. Look for their identification (ID) badges. A new mother should know the person who she hands her baby to. If you don't know who the person is, ask for the ID.
  • Notice whether your care givers have washed their hands. Hand washing is the most important way to prevent infections. Don't be afraid to remind a doctor or nurse to do this.
  • Know what time of the day you normally get medicine. If you don't get it, tell your nurse or doctor.
  • Make sure your nurse or doctor checks your ID. Make sure he or she checks your wristband or asks your name before he or she gives you your medicine or treatment.

Educate yourself about your illness.

Learn about the medical tests you get, and your treatment plan.

  • Ask your doctor about special training and experience that qualifies him or her to treat your illness.
  • Look for information about your condition. Good places to get that information are from your doctor, your library, respected Web sites and support groups.
  • Write down important facts your doctor tells you. Ask your doctor if he or she has any written information you can keep.
  • Read all medical forms and make sure you understand them before you sign anything. If you don't understand, ask your doctor or nurse to explain them.
  • Make sure you know how to work any equipment that is being used in your care. If you use oxygen at home, do not smoke or let anyone smoke near you.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate (advisor or supporter).

Your advocate can ask questions that you may not think about when you are stressed.

  • Ask this person to stay with you, even overnight, when you are in the hospital. You will be able to rest better. Your advocate can help make sure you get the right medicines and treatments.
  • Your advocate can also help remember answers to questions you have asked. He or she can speak up for you when you cannot speak up for yourself.
  • Make sure this person understands the kind of care you want. Make sure he or she knows what you want done about life support and other life-saving efforts if you are unconscious and not likely to get better.
  • Go over the consents for treatment with your advocate before you sign them. Make sure you both understand exactly what you are about to agree to.
  • Make sure your advocate understands the type of care you will need when you get home. Your advocate should know what to look for if your condition is getting worse. He or she should also know who to call for help.

Know what medicines you take and why you take them.

Medicine errors are the most common health care mistakes.

  • Ask about why you should take the medicine. Ask for written information about it, including its brand and generic names. Also ask about the side effects of all medicines.
  • If you do not recognize a medicine, double-check that it is for you. Ask about medicines that you are to take by mouth before you swallow them. Read the contents of the bags of intravenous (IV) fluids. If you're not well enough to do this, ask your advocate to do it.
  • If you are given an IV, ask the nurse how long it should take for the liquid to run out. Tell the nurse if it doesn't seem to be dripping right (too fast or too slow).
  • Whenever you get a new medicine, tell your doctors and nurses about allergies you have, or negative reactions you have had to other medicines.
  • If you are taking a lot of medicines, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to take those medicines together. Do the same for vitamins, herbs and over-thecounter medicines.
  • Make sure you can read the handwriting on any prescriptions written by your doctor. If you can't read it, the pharmacist may not be able to either. Ask somebody at the doctor's office to print the prescription, if necessary.
  • Carry an up-to-date list of the medicines you are taking in your wallet or purse. Write down how much you take and when you take each medicine. Review your medicine list with your health care providers.

Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center, or other type of health care organization that has been carefully checked out.

For example, The Joint Commission visits hospitals to see if they are meeting The Joint Commission's quality standards.

  • Ask about the health care organization's experience in taking care of people with your type of illness. How often do they perform the procedure you need? What special care do they provide to help patients get well?
  • If you have more than one hospital to choose from, ask your doctor which one has the best care for your condition.
  • Before you leave the hospital or other facility, ask about follow-up care and make sure that you understand all of the instructions.
  • Go to Quality Check at www.qualitycheck.org to find out whether your hospital or other health care organization is "accredited." Accredited means that the hospital or health care organization works by the rules that make sure that patient safety and quality standards are followed.

Participate in all decisions about your treatment.

You are the center of the health care team.

  • You and your doctor should agree on exactly what will be done during each step of your care.
  • Know who will be taking care of you. Know how long the treatment will last. Know how you should feel.
  • Understand that more tests or medicines may not always be better for you. Ask your doctor how a new test or medicine will help.
  • Keep copies of your medical records from previous hospital stays and share them with your health care team. This will give them better information about your health history.
  • Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion. If you are unsure about the best treatment for your illness, talk with one or two additional doctors. The more information that you have about all kinds of treatment available to you, the better you will feel about the decision made.
  • Ask to speak with others who have had the same treatment or operation you may have to have. They may help you prepare for the days and weeks ahead. They may be able to tell you what to expect and what worked best for them.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Speak Up, safe-ahc-21939 (Information adapted from The Joint Commission. Used with permission.)
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
First Published: 10/30/2003
Last Reviewed: 06/11/2007