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.
- If you have a concern, you should immediately speak up and tell someone who is directly involved in your care (your doctor or nurse, then a manager on your floor).
- Complaining will not cause your care to be compromised. Hospitals want to help you resolve your problem as quickly as possible.
- You should be clear about your own expectations. What do you want? What do you expect the hospital to do? This allows the hospital to know what will help.
- If you do not receive a timely response, or want to address a problem after youíve left the hospital, contact the hospitalís customer service or patient advocacy office.
- You can use the staff of the patient and family relations department (sometimes called patient advocates) as a sounding board to discuss your case and how best to proceed.
- You may tell a patient advocate what happened, and ask him/her to keep your story confidential. Or you may ask the patient advocate to assist you in having your complaint addressed.
- It is usually best to resolve problems through face-to-face conversations. These can result in better and faster understanding.
- Whether you share your experience anonymously or identified, hospitals will use your experience to further improve on their quality of care.
"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.
- Your nurse or your doctor
- The nurse manager for your floor
- The social worker assigned to your floor
If you donít get a satisfactory response, contact:
- The hospitalís customer service or patient representative
- The hospitalís Patient Safety/Quality Care officer
- A patient advocate (either within or beyond the hospital)
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 MethodsBy 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:
- 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."
- 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?"
- 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.