Patient Safety

Patient Safety and Security

Penn Highlands Healthcare is committed to ensuring that our patients have a safe experience when they visit our hospitals, outpatient facilities and physician offices.

Patient Safety

Although precautions are always in place, medical errors can happen to anyone at any time.

Medical errors are one of the nation's leading causes of death and injury. They can happen when something that was planned as part of medical care does not work out, or when the wrong treatment plan was used. Most errors result from a breakdown in today's complex healthcare delivery system. But errors may occur when providers and their patients have difficulty communicating.

It is important to note that everyone plays a role in making healthcare safe — including patients — by becoming active, informed and involved members of their healthcare teams.

Penn Highlands encourages everyone to be involved in their care because research has proven that patients who participate in decisions about their healthcare are more likely to have better outcomes.

What can you do?

  • Speak up. If you have questions or concerns or if you do not understand something, ask questions.
  • Pay attention to the care you are receiving so that you are getting the right treatments/medications, by the right healthcare professionals at the right time.
  • Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the tests you are receiving and your treatment plan.
  • Ask a friend or family member to be your advocate.
  • Know what medications you take and why you take them.
  • Use a healthcare facility that has undergone a rigorous on-site evaluation for quality and safety.
  • Participate in all decisions about your treatment.

Medication Safety

A study by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences found that 88% of medication errors involved the wrong drug or the wrong dose. It is important for your healthcare provider to know all of the medications you are taking — prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins and herbal remedies.

What can you do?

  • When you receive a prescription, make sure it is the right medication and the right dose.
  • Record all of your medications on a personal health record and take it to all of your medical appointments with you.
  • At least once a year, bring all of your medicines and supplements with you to your doctor. "Brown bagging" your medicines can help you and your doctor talk about them and find out if there are any problems. It can also help your doctor keep your records up to date, which can help you to receive better quality care.
  • Make sure that your physician or provider knows about any allergies or adverse reactions you have had to medications.
  • When your doctor writes a prescription for you, ask that the purpose for the medication be included and make sure you can read it.
  • Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand – both when your medicines are prescribed and when you receive them. It helps to ask:
    • “Why am I taking this medicine?”
    • “When and how am I supposed to take it?”
    • “How long will I be taking this medicine?”
    • “What are the side effects?”
    • “What do I do if they occur?”
    • “Is this safe to take with my other medications?”
    • Are there foods and activities that I should avoid while taking this medication?”
    • “What are the brand and generic names of this medicine?”
    • “When is the best time to take this medicine?”
    • “What should I do if I miss a dose?”
    • “Does this replace any other medication I am taking?”
    • “Where do I store it?
  • When you pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, ask:
    • “Is the medication the doctor ordered?”
    • “How many times a day do I take this?” For example, does four times a day mean every six hours around the clock or only during waking hours?
    • “What is the best way to measure a liquid medicine?”
    • “Do you have written information about the side effects?”

Hospital Stays

Some people are taken to the hospital in emergency situations by a friend, loved one or ambulance. Others are having elective surgery and their hospital stay is planned. Regardless of the reason for a trip to the hospital, it is wise to be prepared.

What can you do?

  • Have a current list of the medicines you are taking, including the dosage, available either on your phone or on paper.
  • Take your list of medications with you every time you go to the hospital for care.
  • Thoroughly read all medical forms and make sure you understand them before you sign anything.
  • If your doctor prescribes medications for you to take while in the hospital, ask the names of each medication and reasons you are taking them.
  • Before you take any medicine in the hospital, look at it. If it doesn't look like what you usually take, ask why. It might be a generic drug, or it might be the wrong drug.
  • Make sure that your hospital ID bracelet is checked every time before you take a medication to prevent you from getting a medication meant for another patient.
  • Before any test or procedure, ask if it will require any dyes or medicines.
  • While you are in the hospital, ask everyone who enters your room with whom you will have direct contact to make sure they wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.
  • When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor or nurse to explain the treatment plan you will use at home.


It is rare that surgery is performed at the wrong site — but it can happen and even once is too often. Wrong-site surgery is 100% preventable. Often the surgeon or physician assistant will initialize the part of your body that will be the surgical site.

What can you do?

  • If you are having surgery, make sure that you and the health care professionals treating you all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done.

Patient Safety for Older Adults

Older adults have special patient safety concerns — not just in the hospital. For example, for people over the age of 65, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths. In addition, more than 11 million elderly people in the U.S. fall each year — one in three senior citizens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 40% of all nursing home admissions are due to falls.

What can you do?

  • Discard slippery throw rugs or place nonskid material on the back.
  • Keep electric cords, telephone cords, newspapers and other items out of walkways.
  • Install grab bars or handrails in the bathtub and by the toilet and use a non-skid shower mat.
  • Make sure the home is well-lit.
  • Put a strip of brightly colored tape on the top and bottom steps of stairways.
  • Arrange items in cabinets to make them easier to reach.

Other ways to help stay safe include:

  • Discard old medications and check that medications are up to date.
  • If you have avoided seeking medical care because of fear of the unknown, make an appointment before your health becomes an emergency.
  • Bring a friend or family member to the physician’s appointment or hospital with you to help ask questions, and help you listen.
  • Learn about your own health issues — become an informed consumer.
  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.
  • Make sure that someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care. This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in a hospital.
  • Make sure that all health professionals involved in your care have important health information about you. Record your medical history including any medical conditions you have, illnesses, immunizations, allergies, hospitalizations, all medications and herbal/dietary supplements you are taking and any reactions or sensitivities you have experienced.
  • Download a Personal Health Record (pdf) one from our site.
  • Do not assume that everyone knows everything they need to ­— share information.
  • Ask a family member or friend to be there with you and to be your advocate (someone who can help get things done and speak up for you if you can't). Even if you think you don't need help now, you might need it later.
  • Know that "more" is not always better.
  • It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You could be better off without it.
  • If you have a test, do not assume that no news is good news. Ask about the results.
  • Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your health care professionals and by using other reliable sources.