Take these steps to lower the risk of medication errors

February 25, 2020 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD

Incorrectly filled prescriptions occur more often than most people know and the effects of these medication errors can have a significant impact on your health. According to one paper on the impact of medication errors, preventable medication errors affect more than 7 million Americans and cost nearly $21 billion each year. Health problems caused by these errors result in more then 3.5 million doctor’s office visits and 1 million emergency department visits per year. Another paper on the topic notes that 7,000 to 9,000 people in the U.S. die as a result of medication errors each year.

To lower the risk of experiencing the often serious health problems caused by these errors, you should be an active, informed partner in your care. Take these steps every time you are prescribed medication.

  1. Medication safety starts in your doctor’s office. When your doctor prescribes medication, ask what the brand and generic names of the drug are, why it’s being prescribed, what dosage is being prescribed, how long you should take the medication, what the potential side effects are, and instructions on how to take the medication, for example in the morning or on an empty stomach. If you see more than one doctor, make sure they all know what medications you take, including over-the-counter medications and supplements. It’s also important to let your doctor know if you’ve ever had an allergic or adverse reaction to any medications.
  2. Every time you pick up a prescription, check it before leaving the pharmacy. Most people just take the bag containing their prescription and head out the door, but what you should do is open the bag as soon as you receive it and check to make sure it’s your prescription and not someone else’s. It’s also wise to check the address and birthdate on the bag and bottle of medication in case there’s another customer with a similar name. In addition, check that it’s the right medication and dosage as prescribed by your doctor.
  3. Don’t assume different looking pills are just the result of a different manufacturer. If your medication is in pill form and the pills are a different color or shape than they have been in the past, ask your pharmacist to confirm that it’s the correct medication and dosage.
  4. Talk with the pharmacist about the best tool for liquid medications. A teaspoon of medication isn’t the same amount of liquid a teaspoon from your cutlery drawer holds. Even dosing cups can lead to inaccurate doses, so ask your pharmacist what the best tool is for measuring liquid medication, something that’s especially important when giving medication to small children. Many pharmacies provide dosing syringes or other tools with the prescription.
  5. If there’s an error, report it. The first step is to alert the pharmacy of the error so they can correct it. You should let your physician know in case the error occurred when he or she prescribed the medication. You can also report medication errors to the FDA and Institute for Safe Medication Practices through their websites.