Background: Many health care providers now disseminate advisories telling patients what they can do to avoid errors and harms in their care.
Methods: The content of five leading safety advisories for patients was analyzed and a critique of their development, content, and impact was developed, drawing on published literature and 40 interviews with a diverse sample of 50 key informants.
Findings: Very little is known about the effects of the distribution of safety advisories to patients, but several grounds for concern were identified. There was a lack of attention to patients' perspectives during the development of advisory messages, and the advisories say little about what health care providers should do to ensure patient safety. Patients are given little practical support to carry out the recommended actions, and health professionals' responses may render their attempts to act to secure their own safety ineffective. Some messages suggest an inappropriate shifting of responsibility onto patients. Advice that involves checking on or challenging health professionals' actions appears to be particularly problematic for patients. Such behaviors conflict with the expectations many people have--and think health professionals have--of patients' roles.
Discussion: A serious commitment to optimizing patients' contributions to safe care requires a research-based understanding of patients' perspectives and more practical facilitation of patient involvement.