How to Avoid Prescription Errors

The number of prescription errors in the United States that cause severe injury of death is staggering, nearly four million every year. While overworked pharmacists and untrained technicians providing medications are a major part of the problem, consumers can take steps to avoid taking the wrong medication, or the wrong amount of medication to avoid injury.

ISMP provides helpful consumer tips to avoid injury

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (IMSP), a nonprofit organization that educates the healthcare community and consumers about safe medication practices, provides helpful consumer tips on safe medication use at home, while in the hospital or at a doctor's office. Here are a few of the tips available on their website (www.imsp.org/) on how to avoid injury:

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At home:

  • Make a list of medications you are taking now. Include the dose, how often you take them, the imprint on each tablet or capsule, and the name of the pharmacy. The imprint can help you identify a drug when you get refills.
  • Any time that your medications change, change your list, too. Double-check the imprints on the tablets and capsules.
  • Keep medications in their original containers. Many pills look alike, so by keeping them in their original containers, you will know which is which and how to take them.

While in the hospital:

  • Take your medications and the list of your medications with you when you go to the hospital. Your doctors and nurses will need to know what you are taking.
  • Tell your doctor you want to know the names of each medication and the reasons you are taking them. That way, if anyone tells you anything different, you'll know to ask questions, which might prevent errors.
  • Look at all medicines before you take them. If it doesn't look like what you usually take, ask why. It might be a generic drug, or it might be the wrong drug. Ask the same questions you would ask if you were in the pharmacy.

At a doctor's office:

  • Take your medication list every time you go to your doctor's office, especially if you see more than one doctor. They might not know about the medications other doctors prescribed for you.
  • Ask your doctor to explain what is written on any prescription, including the drug name and how often you should take it. Then when you take the prescription to the pharmacy, you can double-check the information on the label.
  • Tell your doctor you want the purpose for the medication written on the prescription. Many drug names look alike when written poorly; knowing the purpose helps you and the pharmacist double-check the prescription.

For the complete list of helpful tips from the ISMP, see their brochure at: www.ismp.org/consumers/brochure.asp/.

What to do if you're injured

If you're injured from receiving the wrong prescription drug or the wrong dosage of the correct drug, contact an attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law. Pharmacies are responsible for correctly filling prescriptions and may be liable when they don't.

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