Nursing News

Joint Commission Urges Patients to Speak Up During Recovery

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By Christina Orlovsky, senior staff writer

Quality health care should continue even after a patient leaves a hospital. This is the message behind a new campaign launched by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) encouraging patients to take an active role in their recovery.

The new education campaign is the latest goal of the organization’s Speak Up program. Launched in 2002 by JCAHO and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the national initiative encourages patients to “become active, involved and informed participants on the health care team.”

Studies have shown that many patients leave the hospital confused about diagnoses, unclear about medications and unaware of possible side effects. In fact, a recent study, published in the Aug. 2005 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, reported that of a small group of consecutive patients discharged from a New York teaching hospital, only 42 percent knew their diagnosis. The survey also found that only 28 percent of patients prescribed medications knew the correct names for their medication; 37 percent knew the purpose of the medication; and 14 percent knew all the possible side effects.

Programs like the Joint Commission’s Speak Up initiative are designed to improve such statistics.

Through brochures, public service announcements and participation from health care providers in its more than 1,000 accredited facilities, JCAHO urges patients to involve themselves in their own health care by taking the following steps:

  • Speak up with questions or concerns, and ask again if you don’t understand.
  • Pay attention to the care you’re receiving, making sure you’re getting the right treatments and medications by the right health care professionals.
  • Educate yourself about your diagnosis, tests and treatments.
  • Ask a family member or friend to be a health advocate.
  • Know the medications you take and why you take them.
  • Use a health care facility that has been evaluated for quality and safety standards.
  • Participate in all decisions about your treatment.
  • These actionable steps are designed to empower patients to improve their own safety by reducing medical errors, preventing infections and following up on treatment. The latest effort, centered on a brochure called “Planning Your Recovery,” takes health care out of the hospital and puts it into the home of patients that have been diagnosed with a condition, prescribed medication and released from constant care.

    “A patient’s care is not complete just because he or she leaves a hospital,” said Dennis S. O’Leary, M.D., president of the Joint Commission. “Recovery is dependent upon continuing to get the care you need to get better.”

    O’Leary added that while nurses and other health care providers are involved in helping patients plan for follow-up care, the patients also have a responsibility to continue to seek advice and treatment.

    The education campaign focuses on the Speak Up initiative’s core mission, encouraging patients to find out about their condition, including when they should expect to get better, what symptoms and warning signs they should watch out for and what expectations they should set for themselves about resuming normal activities. Patients are also advised to find out all they can about new medications, including proper dosing instructions, possible interactions new prescriptions may have with existing ones and any side effects that may occur.

    Finally, JCAHO recommends that patients ask for written directions on taking care of wounds, using special equipment and doing required exercises. Patients should also find out the right contacts for future care, any upcoming tests they can expect to receive and what their insurance will and won’t cover.

    In order for the Speak Up campaign to be successful, JCAHO is relying on health care facilities to get the word out to patients and providers. Speak Up materials can be posted at hospitals, distributed at health fairs and used during staff education and orientation programs.

    For more information, visit the Joint Commission Web site.

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