The Joint Commission Looks Out for Your Safety


The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is an independent agency that sets standards for US hospitals. The Joint Commission visits hospitals often to see if they are meeting these standards. This agency is especially concerned about your safety.

Each year it sets specific goals for protecting patients, called National Patient Safety Goals. Many of these goals deal with medicine safety. Some are new, but others have been in place for several years. Summaries of three goals are provided below as examples, along with suggestions on how you can also help healthcare workers achieve these goals.

Goal: Make sure medicines are given to the right patient by checking two forms of identity. (Two forms of identity must also be checked before lab tests or medical procedures.)

What you can do: Expect to be asked for two forms of identity often, even by doctors, nurses, or lab workers who know you well. For example, your doctors and nurses should check your wristband and ask your name and birth date every time before giving you medicine. If they don't speak up! Some patients have identical or nearly identical names.

Goal: Make a list of medicine names that look alike when written or sound alike when spoken. Take steps to prevent mix-ups with these medicines.

What you can do: In most cases, medicines with names that look or sound alike are used to treat different conditions. So always ask the nurse or doctor the name of each medicine and why it is being given to you. Make sure it makes sense to you. Speak up if the name of the medicine sounds different than you expected, or looks unusual. Before you leave the hospital, ask the doctor or nurse if your medicine has a name that looks like another medicine's name. If so, check your prescriptions carefully when you have them filled. Also, make sure the medicine and directions for taking it match what the doctor or nurse has told you.

Goal: Obtain an accurate list of medicines the patient has been taking at home. Have the doctor look at this list when prescribing medicines in the hospital. Compare the list of medicines taken at home with the medicines prescribed in the hospital to make sure there are no mistakes. Send a list of the medicines the patient will be taking after leaving the hospital to the patient's family doctor.

What you can do: You may forget to tell your doctor or nurse about certain medicines you take, especially eye drops, inhalers, medicine patches, and birth control pills. To remember all your medicines, think about the doctors you visit and the medicines each one has prescribed for you. Then think about your conditions and the over-the-counter and prescription medicines you take for each one. Finally, think about the vitamins and herbal products you take to stay healthy. Keep a written list of all these medicines. (Go to: for a form you can use.) If you follow these suggestions, you will be less likely to forget to mention a medicine that you take at home.

During your hospitalization, ask for a copy of your medicine record. This lists all the medicines that you are getting. Check it for accuracy. If you move to a different room, check the list again. If you are not well enough to do this, ask a friend or relative to help. When you are ready to leave the hospital, ask your nurse to add any new medicines to your list, and to cross off any medicines that you should stop taking. When you visit your doctors, always take your list of medicines with you.

To learn more about the National Patient Safety Goals, visit the Joint Commission's website at: You can also see how well hospitals are meeting these goals, and learn if your hospital is meeting all the Joint Commission's standards.

Created on November 1, 2005

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