Monday, April 15, 2013


Asking three questions can make health care safer, easier

Perhaps the best piece of advice I have ever received about negotiating the health care system is to “ask questions.”   Being hospitalized can be an intimidating experience, but if you don’t understand what is happening to you, it intensifies the fear.  How can you care for yourself when you return home if you don’t understand your medication regimen, or how to properly self-inject your newly-prescribed insulin? 
Health care workers often use acronyms when explaining things.  If your doctor or nurse says you have “UTI” it really isn’t so frightening once you understand that only means “urinary tract infection.”

Ask questions — it can make things easier, and safer.

I was hospitalized twice for short periods and still found the experience somewhat intimidating, even though I was a registered nurse working in that same hospital.  I didn’t take any medicine handed to me unless I asked the name of the medicine, what it was for, and why it was prescribed for me. 

Subsequent to my hospitalization experiences, I read about a program called “Ask Me 3,” created by the National Patient Safety Foundation.  “Ask Me 3” is a patient education program designed to promote communication between health care providers and patients in order to improve health outcomes. The program encourages patients to understand the answers to three questions:

•  What is my main problem?
•  What do I need to do?
•  Why is it important for me to do this?

Patients should be encouraged to ask their providers these three simple but essential questions -- in every health care interaction.

Likewise, providers should always encourage their patients to understand the answers to these three questions. 

Come to think of it, getting the answers to these three questions is probably wise for all encounters in life. Whether dealing with health issues, childrearing, or education pursuits, it makes sense that understanding will result in improved outcomes.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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