Prescription error? What to check when you pick up your medications

May 23, 2023 in Health Risk Management

When you pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, do you look it over or just take it home and put it in your medicine cabinet? It’s important to check your prescriptions every time you pick one up or receive your medication via mail to make sure you’ve received the correct prescription, the right dosage, and that you understand how to take the medication and what potential side effects you should be on the lookout for.

Pharmacies are busy and pharmacists are often handling multiple tasks at once, which can lead to accidental errors. One observational study found that 51.5 million dispensing errors occur among the 3 billion prescriptions dispensed annually in the U.S. That’s equal to four errors per day in a typical pharmacy that fills 250 prescriptions each day.

When you pick up a prescription, open the bag and check the contents before you leave the store. Before you take any prescription medication, even one you’ve been filling at the same pharmacy for years, take a few minutes to double check a few things:

  • What name is on the prescription bottle? This might seem too simple, but you should check to make sure your correct name is on the prescription container. The pharmacy may have several customers with the same last name or similar full names, for example Frances Taylor and Francis Taylor. Also check to make sure the home address on the prescription label is yours.
  • What is the drug name and dosage on the label? When your doctor prescribes a medication, ask for the brand name and generic name of the drug and what dosage they’re prescribing. When you pick up your prescription, check to see if what you receive from the pharmacy matches what your healthcare provider prescribed.
  • Do you know how and when to take your medication? Your prescription should include dosing instructions, for example what time of day to take the medication, whether you should take it on an empty stomach or with food, if there are foods or beverages you should avoid while taking the medication, how many times a day you should take it, how long you should take it, and in the case of liquids, what type of tool you should use to measure out your dose (dosing cup, dropper, syringe). If these instructions aren’t included or you don’t understand them, ask to speak with the pharmacist and get clarification.
  • How should the medication be stored? Check the instructions that come with the prescription or ask the pharmacist how you should store the medication. Does it need to be refrigerated? Should it be kept out of direct sunlight or protected against humidity?
  • Does the medication interact with other prescription or over-the-counter medicines? Many pharmacies have you fill out a form when you become a customer that lists all the other medications and supplements you take. This is to help decrease the risk of interactions. If you get prescriptions filled at several places, make sure each in-person and online pharmacy knows about all the prescription and non-prescription medications you take regularly as well as any supplements or herbal remedies.
  • What are the potential side effects and when you should call your healthcare provider? Check the instructions or ask the pharmacist what the common side effects associated with your medications are and if there are any steps you can take to lessen them. If it’s a new prescription, ask which side effects could indicate a serious reaction and when you should call your provider about side effects.
  • What should you do if you miss a dose? With many medications, a missed dose isn’t a serious issue. But there are some types of medications, for example immunosuppressants taken by people who have had an organ transplant, where missing a dose can cause serious health problems. Ask for instructions about how to handle a missed dose and whether that affects when you can safely take your next dose.

By making sure you’re well educated about your prescriptions, you’re taking an important step towards lowering your risk of medication errors.