How to Prevent Medication Errors

From the period December 1, 2011 until February 20, 2012, a CVS pharmacy in New Jersey mistakenly gave children prescription medication for breast cancer instead of the correct fluoride medication, as prescribed by their doctor.  That is no laughing matter, and not necessarily an isolated incident.   At least one death occurs every day and 1.3 million people are injured annually due to medication errors in the United States, according to the FDA.  Learn some easy, practical ways to prevent errors for yourself and loved ones.  And, also get some tips for saving money on prescription medication.

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Medication errors can occur at any level of medical care – administration, prescription or ingestion. Medication errors can occur with prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements.  Though doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals work diligently to prescribe and administer proper medication, you are also responsible for your safety and health. To combat medication errors, seek out information about the drugs you are taking and ask questions about what side effects accompany the medication, and make sure to inform your physician of all medications, vitamins, herbs, and supplements that you are taking, including those you get over the counter at a pharmacy, grocery, or health food store.

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Stop Errors at Home

  • Make a list of the medications you are currently taking. Note the dosage, how often you take them, any imprints on the pill and the name of the pharmacy where the prescription was filled. Also note any over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins and herbal supplements that you take regularly.
  • When changing prescriptions, modify the above list.
  • Make a list of medication and food allergies that you have.
  • Keep medications in their original containers, as many pills look similar. This will help you differentiate between various drugs.
  • Never take someone else’s medication.
  • Read the dosage instructions prior to taking medication to determine how to administer it properly.
  • Always have the lights on when taking medication.
  • Store medications out of a child’s reach.
  • Keep your family’s medications stored separately from pet medications to avoid confusing the medications.
  • Ointments and creams away from your toothpaste. When in a rush, you may accidentally put something dangerous on your toothbrush.
  • Never chew, crush or break tablets or capsules, unless instructed by a doctor. Chewing medication can cause it to be absorbed too quickly, while taking a half dose of other medications may make them ineffective.
  • Use the measuring cup provided for liquid medications only, instead of using kitchen measuring utensils. Consider asking your pharmacist for an oral syringe to administer liquid medications.
  • Never store medications in direct sunlight or in the bathroom. Heat, humidity and light can affect a drug’s potency.

Stop Errors at the Hospital

  • Take your list of medications and allergies to the hospital with you. Also bring the medications in their original containers.
  • Ask your treating physician for the name of each medication he/she is prescribing for you and ask for the reason why you must take them. Then, if someone tells you anything different, you know to ask questions.
  • Inspect all medications before you take them. If a pill does not look like the original medication that your doctor prescribed, ask questions.
  • Do not allow anyone to give you drugs before looking at your hospital bracelet to ensure that the medication was intended for you.
  • Before receiving any tests, ask the nurse if you will be given any dyes or medicines in conjunction with the test. If so, notify the medical staff of any allergies that you may have.
  • When leaving the hospital, have the doctor, nurse or pharmacist provide an explanation of the medications you must take. Then, update your medication list based on these new drugs.

Stop Errors at the Doctor’s Office

  • Bring your medication list with you every time you see your doctors. They may not be aware of medication(s) prescribed to you by other doctors.
  • Ask your doctor for an explanation of any medication prescribed, including how to administer it and why it is necessary. Then, confirm this information again with the pharmacist.
  • Ask your doctor to write the purpose for taking the medication on the prescription. This will lessen the likelihood that you will be given the wrong medication at the pharmacy.
  • If your doctor decides to give you samples, request that he/she checks to make sure that they will not interact with any other medications that you are taking.

Stop Errors at the Pharmacy

  • Ask your pharmacist how to incorporate new medications into your daily life, how to avoid potential side effects and when to seek medical attention for side effects.
  • Ask your pharmacist for the FDA-approved Patient Package Insert (PPI) for the medication you are taking. The PPI provides information on the medication, including uses and side effects. Keep this information for your reference at home.
  • Ask the pharmacist to go over dosage instructions with you, even if the doctor already went over this information.
  • If you feel more comfortable talking to the pharmacist about your medication in private, ask for a more personal area to talk.
  • Ask your pharmacist about any potential allergic reactions that you may have with new medication.
  • Inquire on when and how frequently the medication should be taken throughout the day to ensure that it is effective. Some medications must be taken with/without food, in the morning, etc.
  • Ask the pharmacist to review the medications and supplements that you are currently taking to ensure that they will not have a negative interaction with new medications.
  • Notify your pharmacist if you are having problems with medications that you have taken for an extended period of time when you go to pick up refills. They may be able to offer a solution.

Considering an HSA? Health Savings Accounts(HSA)  are great ways to save for prescriptions, over the counter medications and many other items that your insurance does not cover.  Many family health insurance plans feature HSA’s, get a California family health insurance quote now.

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