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With the overarching theme “Navigate Your Health … Safely,” Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) joined the rest of the nation, last week, in observing Patient Safety Awareness Week.

“We want patients to be advocates in their health care,” said Karla D. Platt, patient safety specialist in the Quality Management Directorate (QMD) at WRNMMC. “We want patients to ask questions of their health care providers and become better educated about their own medical conditions.” She explained this encompasses patients knowing options for their treatment, and possible side effects of medication.

“Parents, other family members and/or significant others are going to be the advocates for seniors and children,” Platt continued. “My husband had some health-care issues, and even as a nurse, I had to research to make sure we were getting the best care,” she added.

According to Suzie Little, Patient Safety Department chief in the QMD, “Patient Safety Awareness Week is an annual educational awareness campaign for health care safety that is led by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF). This is a week we celebrate the advancements that we have made in patient safety and recognize the challenges that remain ahead of us in health care.”

Little added WRNMMC participates in Partnering with Patients, which is part of the Affordable Healthcare Act. “We have implemented 10 major process improvements to prevent hospital acquired conditions, and we participate in preventive health care and evidence-based practices.”

The Joint Commission (TJC), the largest health care accrediting body in the United States that promotes quality and safety, agrees patients should take an active role in their health care by becoming involved and informed participants on their health care team, which can also help prevent errors. The JC, which fully accredited WRNMMC in 2012, encourages patients, parents and those involved in overseeing the care of others, to find out about all tests and treatments for illness or injury; share with caregivers the medical history of the patient; ask questions about anything not understood; remind caregivers to wash and clean hands before touching the patient; and get a thorough explanation of recommended medication. The JC also encourages patients to follow up with caregivers regarding any concerns with treatment and medication.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health has a website, Medline Plus, which offers health information written in easy-to-understand language at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/. This site can assist people in becoming educated about their conditions, along with talking to their caregivers.

Last Thursday during Patient Safety Awareness Week at Walter Reed Bethesda, the medical center’s patient safety staff provided beneficiaries, staff and visitors, information designed to improve communication between patients and caregivers. Navy Capt. Sarah Martin, WRNMMC chief of staff, was also on hand to help celebrate the observance, explaining patient safety awareness is in line with WRNMMC Director Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Jeffrey B. Clark’s initiative for the nation’s largest joint military medical center to be “proactively patient-friendly” and better assist beneficiaries in their care.

Army Lt. Col. Editha D. Ruiz, chief of Maternal Child Nursing at WRNMMC, explained her department supports patient safety by ensuring all equipment and supplies are inspected and current. “We make sure everything is up to speed.”

Ruiz explained that in obstetrics at WRNMMC, the staff anticipates and prepares for emergencies by doing practice runs for emergency care, as well as always ensuring adequate staffing and personnel competency. “All my nurses have the competencies to do their job,” she added.

The lieutenant colonel said her nurses are also encouraged to ask patients, their families and/or significant others, questions about their care at WRNMMC. “We ask them if they have any issues or are unsure of anything the caregiver or nurse may have told them.” She explained on a white board in patients’ rooms, patients and their families are encouraged to write the patient’s goals for the day, or any concerns they may have with their care so that they can be addressed.

There’s also weekly “pediatrics safety huddle” to discuss issues and concerns, whether they involve communication, process and/or equipment, Ruiz said. “We look at those factors to make sure there’s no harm resulting in any of the care. We want to always provide safe, excellent care.”

As the organizer for Patient Safety Awareness Week, NPSF officials explained this year’s theme, “Navigate Your Health … Safely,” focuses on a patient’s health journey beginning with diagnosis and continuing throughout treatment, and for the patient to be educated to help direct his or her care with caregivers, rather than just being along for the trip.

For more information concerning patient safety at Walter Reed Bethesda, contact Karla Platt, patient safety specialist, at karla.d.platt.civ@health.mil, or Suzie Little Patient Safety Department chief, at 301-295-6236.

Editor’s note: Sharon Renee Taylor contributed to this article.