FT. WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - "United in Safety" is more than just a catch-phrase for 2018 Patient Safety Awareness Week March 11-17, it encourages patients and their family members to become more involved and informed with their health care by becoming partners with their health care team.

A Journal of Patient Safety study from 2015 reports as many as 440,000 preventable deaths occur every year in the United States in civilian hospitals, and medical professionals agree that patient safety has to be at the heart of health care.

According to Rebekah Lail, acting patient safety manager for Medical Department Activity -- Alaska, one way MEDDAC-AK is working to eliminate preventable harm and to facilitate a team mentality between the health care provider and patient is by adopting the 'Speak Up' program designed by the Joint Commission as well as the 'Ask Me' program created by TRICARE, and the 'Ask Me 3' sponsored by the National Patient Safety Foundation.

"These programs educate staff and patients to help improve communication," said Lail. "For example, when patients or family members prepare questions before the appointments, this can serve as a checklist so that at the end of the appointment patients and family members can ensure all their concerns have been discussed with the provider."

According to Lail patients play an important role to ensure their safety.

"Patients and family members are an important part of the team and they can help reduce errors by always fully informing their doctor about their symptoms, allergies, bad reactions to medications, their medical history, and asking questions," said Lail.

The 'Ask me Three' program encourages patients to ask their health care providers three questions:
-What is the main problem?
-What do I need to do?
-Why do I need to do it?

These three questions serve as a stepping stone to an open dialogue with the provider says Lail.

"Through the use of these questions, patients can organize the provider-patient conversation, focus discussion on the answers to key questions, and help patients acquire the information they need to take care of their health," said Lail.

Lail also stresses the importance of bringing pertinent documentation and all medications to appointments. Providers understand how overwhelming an appointment can be for patients as there is a lot of information given in a short amount of time and Lail offers several suggestions for patients when they come to an appointment.

"Patients and family members should clarify with the doctor what medication and tests they need and write it down to compare against medication and tests that they actually receive."

"This is not the time to be embarrassed about not understanding something the doctor said, it's perfectly acceptable to ask for clarification or for the provider to explain in different terms. Before leaving the office, patients should also write down if a follow-up appointment is required to discuss results of any tests."

Another means for patients to keep an open line of communication with their provider is by signing up for Secure Messaging through RelayHealth. This system allows patients to talk securely over email with the health care team and is a great way to have questions answered in a short period of time.

MEDDAC-AK also has a robust patient safety program to raise patient awareness of pertinent safety issues and facilitates.

According to Lail, staff at MEDDAC-AK, are constantly looking for ways to improve patient safety and to create a culture of safety within the organization. Uniting staff members, no matter rank or position, so they feel empowered to speak up when they see something, or have concerns, is a large piece of ensuring patient safety.

"Our patient safety event reporting (PSR) system is designed to make the hospital safer for every patient, says Lail. "Through this program we are able to share knowledge about events that could, or did, lead to patient harm and actions taken to prevent it from happening again. One of the advantages of the PSR system is that it is a voluntary, non-punitive program, where anyone involved in an event can provide detailed anonymous information. Through the use of this system MEDDAC- AK promotes an environment of trust where staff is encouraged and rewarded for sharing safety related information and everyone understands acceptable and unacceptable behavior."

National Patient Safety Week is a national observance sponsored by the National Patient Safety Foundation as an education and awareness campaign to improve patient safety at the local level.