How to Speak Up at the Hospital

What You Need To Know

The best way to solve a health-care related problem is to do it face to face, right when the problem is occurring. State your concerns, needs, and expectations clearly.

This is an example of a patient speaking up:
"I think I'm having an allergic reaction to the tape used in these bandages. I've mentioned my rash to my nurse three times but she hasn't done anything. It's getting worse. I want to have the bandages replaced and for my doctor to check out why this rash is occurring."
Or you could say to a patient advocate:
"This swelling doesnít feel OK. The doctor is ignoring it. I would like a different doctor to look at it tomorrow."

Start with a person you trust who is familiar with your care.

If you donít get a satisfactory response, contact:

Each hospital has a different name for the office that handles patient concerns. Some hospitals have very detailed web pages that explain their complaint process.

Rapid Response Methods

By law, all Massachusetts hospitals are required to have Rapid Response Methods (often called Rapid Response Teams). If a patient or family member believes the patient’s health is deteriorating and the patient needs immediate attention, they can activate the Rapid Response Method so their concerns can be assessed and the patient can be provided any needed care. Upon entering the hospital, ask a nurse how a Rapid Response Method or Team can be activated if needed.


How to Speak Up After Leaving the Hospital

Sometimes, we donít have a chance to speak up until after the problem has occurred and the treatment is over. If youíre preparing to talk to a health care provider or patient advocate after youíve left the hospital, gathering your thoughts in advance can help you focus on the facts, and keep you calm. That way, others can respond to your concerns, not just your emotions.

The main question to focus on is: what went wrong, and what should be done now?

Think about the following questions before you speak up:

  1. What is the problem? Describe what has happened and what are you concerned about. For example, ďAfter my surgery, nobody explained how to clean and dress my incision. When I got an infection, I felt that my doctor blamed me for the problem."
  2. What questions do you have? For example, ďI want to know what went wrong. Why didnít I get the right supplies and instructions? Where did the communication break down?"
  3. How can the hospital make things better? What do you want the hospital to do? For example, ďI want the hospital to figure out who discharged me and why I didnít get the correct instructions. I want an apology. And I want to know what you will do to make sure this never happens to someone else."

You can also get these thoughts across in a letter. Click here for information about writing a complaint letter.

Patient and Family Advisory Councils

By law, all Massachusetts hospitals are required to have Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs). PFACs bring together current and former patients to work with the hospital on improving quality of care and the patient and family care experience. To find out how to get involved in a hospital’s PFAC and to learn more about the work of PFAC, go to the PFAC page on the Health Care For All website.

Information about Massachusetts hospitals | What is a Patient Advocate? | Writing Complaint Letters