Patient Safety Awareness Week is slated to kick-off March 3-9 at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, in conjunction with the National Patient Safety foundation.

This week aims at raising awareness for patient safety initiatives, improving health care quality and strengthening alliances between patients, families and their healthcare providers.

This year's theme of 7 days of recognition, and 365 days of commitment to safe care (7/365) aims to encourage patients and health care providers to take time to appreciate progress made in patient safety, but still acknowledging the commitment necessary to keep those developments headed down the right path.

Over the past year, General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital has implemented programs that help reduce the number of errors associated with medications. Their efforts have been recognized by being awarded the National Patient Safety Award for "Pediatric dosing in after hour emergency rooms visits" at the Department of Defense level.

Even with advancements to patient safety made over the past year, the desire remains to strive for perfection. Reaching that goal will take a group effort.

The responsibility for patient safety begins with the patient having the best level of understanding of their care, leading to the creation of the "Ask Me 3" program. The focus being the three questions patients should ask every time they talk with their doctor, nurse or pharmacist:

1. "What is my main problem?"
2. "What do I need to do?"
3. "Why is it important for me to do this?"

What is my main problem? Communication between health care providers and patients is essential for a safe and quality experience. However, studies show that a decent level of understanding is lacking in 36 percent of all patients.

What do I need to do? Ask questions of your health care providers until you feel you truly understand their directions for procedures and medication.

Why is it important for me to do this? Studies show that people who understand health instructions make fewer mistakes when they take their medicine or prepare for a medical procedure. They may also get well sooner or be able to better manage a chronic health condition.

Additional simple steps make it possible to increase patient safety.

One of the most valuable things anyone can do is to have a current list of medications, and to take it to all appointments. Being informed helps a patient's doctor with decisions regarding the most effective prescriptions to make, decreasing the risk for over medicating.

Pharmacists will also be able to spot potential harmful interactions and allergy risks if patients have this list.

(Editor's Note: Lori C. Barteau is the chief of the Quality Management Division, Brenda Helton is the patient safety manager, and Stacie Baldwin is the Red Cross volunteer at the Quality Management Division, at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital)