Senior Beat

Senior Beat: Taking charge of your own health

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to the Weekly

Here is a sobering thought: One in seven Medicare patients in hospitals experience a medical error. This statistic is directly from the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website.

I love doing research and am always looking around the internet, scouring trusted sites, like anything ending in “.gov” for pertinent information you may find useful.  

I urge you to visit and type 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors in the search bar. It is a patient fact sheet that is particularly eye opening.

I will give you the highlights here:  

By the way, it is not only hospitals that have errors. Mistakes can happen in every health care setting, including clinics, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and even in the patient’s own home. Medication and lab errors come to mind, not to mention misdiagnosis.

Sometimes the errors occur because of carelessness or people hurrying. Sometimes they are caused by a lack of communication between the health care provider and the patient.  

As consumers, we need to be more vigilant than ever when dealing with our health. Gone are the days of blind trust. Time to take charge and keep good notes. There is a benefit to this extra work, according to AHRQ. Research indicates that patients who are more involved with their own care tend to get better results.

First up: Medicines.

–Make sure that all of your providers know about every medicine you are taking. Seems redundant, right? After all, the doctor gave you the medicine. Well, not so fast. What about over-the-counter pain relievers, or vitamins or herbs? These are all important to mention.  

–I have long been a proponent of the “brown bag” visit. Put all your medications in a paper bag and take to your next doctor’s visit. This does two things: the doctor can have a conversation about the meds and answer any questions, and, if you take many medications, your provider will get a good visual and perhaps reduce the amount. Nothing like a bag of pills as a reality check.  

–When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, ask: Is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed? My friend and I take the exact same medication yet our pills look very different. It is usually a matter of a different manufacturer but it’s best to always ask.  

–The writing on the pill bottle labels gets smaller every year. Make sure you understand the directions. For example, does “four times daily” means taking a dose every six hours or just during waking hours?

–Ask about side effects. You will undoubtedly get a lengthy sheet with tiny writing warning you of everything from a rash to the Apocalypse. Ask the pharmacist to give you the highlights of what to watch for.

Now about hospital stays. No one wants to be hospitalized but sometimes it is unavoidable. We all know that infections are an ever-present danger so, while hard, speak-up if you see something or feel that something isn’t right.

–If your health care worker neglected to do a thorough hand washing before touching you, ask that they do so. This is a critical move to reducing infections. It may feel awkward but it is better to remind them than to suffer possible consequences.

–You may be given new medicine in the hospital. Ask your primary care provider if you should continue to take it once you get home, and ask for a review of all your drugs every time a new one is added. Also ask if you need to stay on all the meds you were taking before your admittance to the hospital. Did surgery fix the condition for which you were taking the medications?

This is just a sample of what will tell you so, again, visit the site to learn more. Health care today is a partnership and with us, as consumers, at the forefront.    


Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at

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