SPEAK UP for your health care
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.
  • If you do not understand because you speak another language, ask for someone who speaks your language. You have the right to get free help from someone who speaks your language.
  • 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 health care professionals if you think they have 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. 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, checks your wristband or asks your name before giving 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 this person to treat your illness.
  • Look for information about your condition. Good places to get that information are from your doctor, your library, respected websites (such as the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention [CDC]) and support groups.
  • Write down important facts your doctor tells you. Ask your doctor if there is 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. This person can write down information you need to remember or speak up for you when you cannot speak up for yourself.
  • Make sure this person understands the kind of care you want. Make sure your advocate knows what you want done about life support and other life-saving efforts if you are unconscious and not likely to get better.
  • Your advocate should be someone who can communicate and work well with health care professionals. This will help you get the best care.
  • Your advocate should know who your health care proxy decision-maker is. A proxy is a person you choose to sign a legal document so that person can make decisions about your health care when you are not able to make your own decisions. Your advocate may be your proxy. This person should know this ahead of time.
  • Go over the consents for treatment with your advocate before you sign them. Make sure you both understand exactly to what you are about to agree.
  • 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. This person should also know whom 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-the-counter medicines.
  • 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 healthcare 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 your doctor to recommend a support group you can join to help deal with your condition. People in these groups 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.
  • Talk to your doctor and family about your wishes for resuscitation and other life-saving actions.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Speak Up, safe-ah-21939 (Information adapted from The Joint Commission. Used with permission.)
First Published: 10/30/2003
Last Reviewed: 11/01/2021