Protect Yourself From Prescription Medication Errors

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Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 08/06/2014

If the drug does looks different from previous times you've taken it, or if you're unsure about the dosage, don't hesitate to question the pharmacist.

According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, several thousand deaths occur annually in the United States due to incorrect prescriptions and other prescription medication errors. A number of studies suggest that overworked and distracted pharmacists—coupled with confusing, sound-alike and look-alike drugs—are at least partially to blame for these prescription medication errors.

Add to that overlooked drug interactions and dangerous prescription drug side effects, and it gives new meaning to the term “managed care.” In other words, when it comes to prescription drugs, you need to manage your own care in order to avoid the disaster that could come from serious prescription medication errors.

Steps to Prevent Prescription Medication Errors

  • Insist on detailed, printed information about each and every prescription drug you are prescribed. Read the Physicians’ Desk Reference description of all of your drugs, or visit drugs.com.
  • Make a list of every drug you are taking—including over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements, and go over each one with your physician. (If you are seeing more than one physician, let each one know all drugs and nutritional supplements you are taking.) I also recommend carrying this list with you at all times, so in the event of an emergency, you can protect yourself from harmful prescription medication errors because you have this important information with you.
  • Ask your doctor and your pharmacist about doses, interactions with other drugs, and side effects. Also, make sure you understand why you are taking a particular drug and how long you will need to take it. Find out if there are safer alternatives to prescription drugs and don’t be afraid to ask if you could get by on a lesser dose or discontinue the prescription drug altogether. 
  • When your doctor writes a prescription, be sure you can read it. If you can’t, there’s a chance your pharmacist won’t be able to either, meaning a significantly higher chance that a medication error will be made.
  • Verify the dosages and drug names with your doctor and, before going to the pharmacy, write them down. 
  • Choose a reputable pharmacy that has more than one pharmacist working with clerks and technicians, so the pharmacist will have the time to talk with you. Be aware, however, that not everyone wearing a white coat is a pharmacist. In some cases, they’re minimally trained clerks. 
  • Ask the pharmacist to show you the prescription drug and tell you what it’s for. 
  • If the prescription drug looks different from previous times you’ve taken it, or if you’re unsure about the dosage, don’t hesitate to question the pharmacist. 
  • Check prescription drug labels for your name, and be sure the dosages and drug names match what you’ve written down. 

Now it's your turn: What steps do you take to avoid prescription medication errors?

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