Preventing Medication Errors

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Communication and knowledge are your best defenses against medication errors.

Medication errors are mistakes that occur while prescribing, dispensing, and administering medications. Each year, they injure hundreds of thousands of people in this country and are largely preventable.

Recent research shows that 50% of all medication errors occur in the prescribing and ordering steps of the process. Furthermore, the elderly are at an increased risk for prescribing errors because they have more medications and often more than one prescribing physician. How can you protect yourself and your family from prescribing errors?

  • Make a list of all of your current medications, including any supplements, vitamins, and over the counter medications. Update this list with new doses, allergies, and sensitivities.
  • Bring your current complete medication list to healthcare appointment, asking them to compare this to your record on file.
  • Store a current list of your medications, allergies, and physician contacts in a location accessible to a friend or family member.
  • Get your medications from one pharmacy to prevent taking medications with similar properties or that may interact with each other.

The next largest category of medication errors happens during the medication administration process. How can you protect yourself and your family from medication administration errors?

  • Know the name, type, reason for each medication.
  • Understand all of the instructions – how to take the medicine, time to take it, frequency, dose, and route.
  • Read all of the warnings, possible drug interactions, and food/drinks to avoid. Consult your pharmacist and review your entire medication list or contact the prescribing doctor with any questions or concerns.
  • Know how to properly store your medications, and how to dispose of expired or discontinued medications.
  • Store your medications in their original, labeled containers.
  • Use a calendar, pill box, and/or medication list to help remember which medication to take.
  • If you use a smartphone, apps like Medisafe Medication Manager and Round Health can send you push notifications.
  • Take your medicine when doing a daily action, such as at meal time.

How do you know when it is time to seek assistance with medications?

  • Missed medications.
  • Disorganization or lack of a system for taking medications.
  • Changes in health that compromises one’s abilities, including vision loss or a decline in cognitive function.
  • Complicated medication regimen.

If you or someone you know needs assistance with their medications please talk to a doctor or pharmacist and consider a consultation with a Stowell Care Manager.

For additional information consider these resources:

Medication Errors: Cut your risk with these tips – Mayo Clinic

Medication Errors a Big Problem After Hospital Discharge – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publications

This article was originally published on September 9, 2014 and has been updated as of June 26, 2020 with current information.

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