The 7 Steps You Should Take to Prevent Medication Errors

December 11, 2018 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
medication errors

Medication errors are more common than you may think and they can have serious health consequences. One study found that preventable medication errors affect more than 7 million patients per year and account for more than 3.5 million doctor’s visits and 1 million emergency department visits.

The types of errors range from the wrong dosage of medication to a pharmacy providing a similar sounding, but incorrect, medication. Interactions with other medications and supplements and allergic reactions to medications can also cause adverse events. Medication errors occur in the hospital and out of it, so it’s important that any time your doctor prescribes a medication, you take steps to protect yourself against errors.

  • Know your medications. Carry an up-to-date list of all medications, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements and their dosages with you. You can store the information on your smartphone or in a curated medical record or print a hard copy. This information can be life-saving in an emergency, especially if you’re not able to communicate with first responders or medical staff.
  • Make sure your doctors know about all your medications. If you see more than doctor, it’s important that each one knows not just about the medications he or she has prescribed, but also about any medications other doctors you see have prescribed, as well as over-the-counter medications and supplements you take regularly. At each appointment, review your medication list with your doctor. Ask what each medication is for, what both the brand and generic names for the medication are, how long you should continue taking it, and if there are potential side effects or drug interactions you should be aware of.
  • Update your doctors on any adverse reactions you’ve experienced in the past. Keep a list of any medications that you’ve had an adverse or allergic reaction to. Include the symptoms you experienced. Share that information with all your doctors and make sure it’s included in your medical record.
  • Ask for information about your medications in language you understand. If you don’t understand anything about your medication—why you’re taking it, what the potential side effects are, how you’re supposed to take it—ask your doctor to explain in plain English. It can also be helpful to have your doctor write the information down for you or include it in your visit notes so you can review it as needed.
  • At the pharmacy, check to make sure you got the medication that was prescribed. A significant number of medication errors occur because many medications have similar sounding names. Before leaving the pharmacy, compare the drug name on the prescription bottle with the drug name on the original prescription. If they’re different, ask the pharmacist why. In some cases, one may simply be the brand name and the other the generic, but it’s still important to double check. It’s also wise to make sure you received your prescription and not another patient’s by mistake.
  • Ask your pharmacist about the directions for taking your medication. If you’re supposed to take the medicine multiple times a day, find out how much time should pass between doses. If the medication is liquid, ask what the most accurate way to measure a dose is. Most pharmacies provide free dosing syringes or other measuring tools.
  • Speak up. If you think you there’s error in your prescription, for example you used to take it once a day but the new prescription says to take it twice a day and the doctor didn’t mention the change, ask your doctor if it’s correct. If you’re at the pharmacy, ask the pharmacist to call your doctor and confirm that there hasn’t been an error.