According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors are among the most common type of preventable medical mistakes to occur in hospitals. Adverse drug events cause more than 770,000 injuries and deaths each year and cost up to $5.6 million per hospital, based on a study by the Agency for Health Research and Quality.
Although these statistics are disturbing, there are some measures you can take to avoid medication errors. If you want to play it safe with prescriptions, follow these five simple medication safety steps:
1. Keep a list of all your meds
If you’re paying a visit to your doctor’s office, the pharmacy, or the hospital, bring a complete list of all your medications with you. If you don’t have time to write down your medications, simply throw all them into a bag and take them with you.
You should include both prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as any vitamins and herbal supplements that you use. You should also tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any known drug allergies. If you receive a new prescription, be sure to ask both your doctor and pharmacist if it’s safe to use with the other medications you’re taking currently.
2. Double check your prescription
When you pick up your medication at the pharmacy, make sure it’s the correct prescription. Double check that the name of the medication matches what your doctor wrote on the prescription.
If you’re picking up a refill, take note if the bottle or pills look different from the medication you’ve received in the past. Are the pills a different color, shape, or size? Has the bottle design changed? Don’t hesitate to tell your pharmacist if you notice such a disparity. Most of the time, patients are the first to notice medication errors. So if something seems wrong, go with your gut and speak up.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
When your doctor prescribes a new medication, feel free to ask both the doctor and pharmacist plenty of questions and make sure that you understand their answers.
If you’re worried that you won’t remember what the doctor tells you about your medications, take thorough notes during your appointment. You might also want to bring a family member or friend along with you who can keep track of your doctor or pharmacist’s advice.
4. Understand possible side effects
You’ve probably seen the long list of potential side effects that comes with a new prescription. Unfortunately, most patients pay this list no more than a fleeting glance before they throw it in the trash. However, it’s extremely important that you understand all possible side effects of a medication.
Although some prescription drug side effects can be a minor bother, others can be a sign of a serious problem or drug allergy. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects you can expect with a prescription and familiarize yourself with the list of side effects that’s enclosed in the medication. If you develop a serious side effect or signs of drug allergy, stop taking the medicine and contact your doctor immediately. You might need to switch prescriptions or take a different dosage.
5. Make sure you know how to use the medication properly
When you pick up a new prescription, read all the directions on the drug label thoroughly. You might need to take the drug with a meal, on an empty stomach, or with a glass of milk. You might also need to avoid alcohol, driving, or sun exposure while you’re on the medication. Not following these instructions or taking the wrong dose could lead to serious problems.
Sometimes these labels can be confusing, especially when it’s a drug that needs be taken multiple times a day. If you do not understand any of the instructions, ask your pharmacist or doctor to clarify.
It’s important to follow all of these prescription safety rules. After all, these five easy steps could be the difference between life and death.