Medication mistakes are the most common medical errors and the most easy to prevent. 1.5 million people are harmed by medication errors every year (Institute of Medicine). That has to be a conservative number as the report was published in 2006.
In my new book, The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get the Best Medical Care, I emphasize that you can prevent medication mistakes simply by taking charge of your medications.
Many of us are so busy that we don’t always pay attention to the name and dosage of a medication that is prescribed for us. You might think about changing that behavior because medication errors happen in all sorts of ways and happen all the time. By the time your prescription leaves your doctor’s hands, errors can happen in transcription, scanning, faxing, misinterpretation of the medication given over the phone to a busy pharmacist or misinterpreted by the pharmacy tech who fills it. A misplaced decimal point can give you much more than you bargained for.
I interviewed a pharmacist for my new book and he told me about a medication error that was a result of a simple, human mistake but could have had disastrous consequences. A patient’s husband picked up his wife’s medication from the pharmacy. The next morning the patient called the pharmacist. She was very upset.She had taken two doses of the medication picked up by her husband and then realized another patient’s name was on the bottle and the medication inside was not what she was supposed to have. The technician at the pharmacy didn’t look at the name on the prescription before he handed it to the husband and neither did the husband or the patient. Two doses of the wrong medication were ingested before the medication mistake was realized.
This could so easily been prevented. Obviously the tech should have checked, but the husband who did the picking up could have checked for the correct name on the bottle, as could have the patient.
I have to wonder—aren’t we as patients responsible too? I’m not insinuating that the pharmacy was not solely responsible for that medication mistake but don’t we as patients need to start playing a part in our medication safety as well?
I think we do.
Medication safety is a team effort. In an ideal world maybe we could trust all medical professionals to get every detail right. But today, everyone from doctors to pharmacists is over-extended and multi-tasking in shorter and shorter periods of time. Isn’t it in our best interest as patients to take on some of the detail-oriented tasks of making sure we receive the correct medication and dosage that is intended for us?
Try these tips. I think you’ll find them easy enough to implement and pretty successful. If you want to prevent medication errors from happening to you, dig in and get invested in your health.
1. Create a list of all your current medications and their dosages, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements. Yes, aspirin is a medication and so are hormones. List your allergies to medications. You can keep this list on your smart phone or simply write it on a piece of paper and slip it into one of the slots in your wallet. This way, at each medical encounter you have where a new prescription might be offered, you have your list and your doctor or nurse can review it for any potential problems.
2. Ask the doctor for the medication name (both brand and generic names) and for the dosage. Write it down or input it into your electronic device at the time you see or talk to your medical professional. When you pick up your prescription from the pharmacy, check your information with the medication you receive.
3. Know why you are taking a medication. Understand what your diagnosis is and how the medication is supposed to treat it. Ask questions. If you don’t understand what your physician explains to you, ask questions. You can say something like this, “I’m sorry. I still don’t understand. Could you please explain in a different way why I need this medication? What will happen if I don’t take it?” If you miss this opportunity, ask questions of the pharmacist.
4. When you pick up your prescription, check to see that it is the correct medication, correct dosage, and that the medication matches the small descriptive tag on the bottle or box. Check to see that the number of pills matches what you have inside the bottle. Do this before you leave the pharmacy.
5. Use one pharmacy. This allows the pharmacy to use their computer programs to detect any medication interactions when you have a new prescription to be filled. If you use two or more pharmacies, there is no way for that to happen because all your medications are not in one place.