Prescription drug errors happen more than you might realize. Medical providers often see a lot of patients—quickly—bouncing from one examination room to the next. They prescribe over the phone and call orders in for patients in the hospital and are constantly multi-tasking. In the old days of written prescriptions, the medical provider had a bit more time to think about what they were prescribing. They had to spell it correctly and write it legibly (sort of) for the pharmacist to interpret. But with the speed our lives have found us in, comes error.
Each year in the US, over 98,000 deaths are attributed to medical errors. Here’s how to avoid problems at the pharmacy:
Double-Checking your Doctor
When your medical provider prescribes any medication, ASK WHAT IT IS. Get the name and write it down. Many doctors will mention brand names (easier), but yet prescribed a generic because of insurance reasons. If there are two names for the drug, write both of them down.
- Ask the reasons for the medication, unless it is obvious.
- Ask what dosage you are to take and how often. Inquire as to the duration you are to take it.
- Ask about any potential side-effects.
Make sure your medical provider knows other medications you may be taking (including over-the-counter medicines), especially if you are seeing more than one doctor. Many drugs can have adverse interactions if taken together.
If the medical provider gives you a written prescription, read it. Make sure it matches what he or she just told you. Unfortunately, many prescriptions use short-cut abbreviations in Latin. For instance, QID means “four times per day” and PRN means “as needed”. You may need to look up these meanings on the Internet or ask your medical provider before they take off to the next room. If the medical provider sends the prescription electronically to the pharmacy, you may need to address those questions later with the pharmacist.
As the patient, you have a personal responsibility to look up the medication you are taking and familiarize yourself with the usual dosages and usual side-effects. Know what you are taking!
Double-Checking your Pharmacist
When picking up your prescription, read the label carefully and make sure the medication prescribed by your medical provider matches the medications in the prescription. Ask the pharmacist if there is any discrepancy.
- If your medical provider told you to take the medicine for ten days, make sure there are ten days worth of medications in the bottle.
- Some medications are available in pills, capsules, or liquids, so make sure the type that was prescribed is in a form you can take.
- The pharmacist should give you a print out of patient information about the drug that was prescribed to you. If not, ask for it.
- If you think there is any type of medication error, bring it up to the pharmacist immediately.
- Make sure your allergy information is correct in the pharmacy computer and make updates as needed.
Preventing medication errors is a team effort and the most important member of this team is YOU.