At UCLA Health System, patients admitted to the hospital are encouraged to monitor whether clinicians wash their hands and to speak up if they don't. Patient and family advisory councils meet regularly with managers and leaders to identify improvement opportunities throughout the care process. And before nurses change shifts, they review the plan of care at the bedside so the patient is involved in that conversation. These efforts have increased patients' trust and confidence in their nurses, as evidenced on satisfaction surveys, says Tom Rosenthal, M.D., chief medical officer at UCLA Health System.

UCLA is just one example of a health system that's championing efforts to better engage patients in the safety movement. On a national level, the Joint Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kimberly-Clark and others joined forces to promote safety and patient engagement. Through the multimedia and interactive Safe Care Campaign, the groups are reaching patients and families at the bedside, encouraging them to take an active role in their health care. Posters hanging in patient rooms highlight safety videos that can be accessed on smart phones.

"These videos can enable patients to participate more fully in their care and to protect themselves from the risks in health care," says Paul Schyve, M.D., senior adviser for health care improvement at the Joint Commission.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also promotes patient engagement. In a new 7-minute video, real-life patients, caregivers and clinicians give firsthand accounts about the importance of asking questions. "Patients do benefit by being actively involved in their health care," says Jeff Brady, M.D., of AHRQ's Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety. "Safer care and better health outcomes are more likely when patients communicate well with their doctors and make sure they understand important information."

Still, even with extra vigilance, it's unrealistic to rely on patients to prevent the wrong medication from being administered, says Patrice L. Spath, editor of Engaging Patients as Safety Partners: A Guide for Reducing Errors and Improving Satisfaction, and a health care quality specialist in Forest Grove, Ore. "What it does is create an awareness that the hospital cares about your safety," she says. "How much patients can actually contribute to their own safety is still in question."