Despite America having one of the best health care systems in the world, medical mistakes are still a reality. Medication-related errors are among the most frequently occurring preventable medical mistakes. A report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that at least 1.5 million individuals are harmed each year as a result of medication errors in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or outpatient settings. Another study by the Agency for Health Research and Quality estimates that adverse drug reactions result in over 770,000 deaths and injuries per year and cost each hospital involved around $5.6 million dollars.
To say the least, the medication error statistics are shocking and disturbing for patients and consumers. However, there are some very simple things that you can do to help prevent finding yourself in a medication error situation. Play it safe with your medications by following these safety steps:
1. Keep a detailed list of all the medications you take. Write down the name and dosage of each medication you take, including vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and prescription medications. This list should be brought with you each time you go to a doctor, pharmacy, or hospital. You might keep the list in your purse or wallet so that you don’t forget to bring it. If you don’t make a list, at least collect all of your medications and bring them with you.
2. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about your drug allergies. Even if you have a long-standing relationship with your doctor and pharmacist, don’t forget to mention your known drug allergies when you’re prescribed a new medication. Also, check that new prescriptions are safe to use with all the medications you’re already taking.
3. Check your prescriptions for errors. Make sure that you’ve received the correct medication and strength each time you pick up new and refill prescriptions. Additionally, note if the refill’s packaging or the pill’s shape, size, or coloring has changed. Patients are often the first to notice a medication error. Do point out anything that seems amiss to your pharmacist before you take the medication.
4. Ask questions. You should take the time to ask your doctor and pharmacist questions about any new medication. You might want to take notes on what the doctor and pharmacist tell you about your medications, or bring someone else with you to help you keep track of the information. In any event, make sure to ask for clarification on any medical terminology that you don’t fully understand. If you can’t get clear answers on the medication, you aren’t comfortable with your provider, or he/she doesn’t take time to listen and address your concerns and questions, then it might be time to seek a different provider.
5. Know how to use the medication. Some medications come with specific instruction on how it should be taken – such as, with meals, with or without a particular fluid, avoiding the sun, not driving, not consuming alcohol, and so forth. Some medications must also be measured or taken multiple times per day. It might cause you to get the wrong dosage or lead to health issues if you don’t follow the instructions. If you have any doubt about how you should take, store, or use a medication, then you should always ask your pharmacist and doctor to clarify the instructions.
6. Know the side effects. The list of potential side effects that accompanies a new prescription more often than not gets a brief glance and then hits the trashcan. The side effects of a drug can range from bothersome irritations to life threatening medical emergencies and drug allergies. So, it’s vital that you know what the potential side effects are for all the medications you take by reading the list of side effects enclosed in your medication’s packaging -and- by asking your doctor and pharmacist what you might expect while taking the medication. Remember to stop taking the medication immediately and contact your health care provider if you develop signs of a drug allergy or serious side effect.
Considering that medication errors can have life and death consequences, these six simple safety steps shouldn’t be too difficult to follow.