Avoiding Medication Errors
10 ways to prevent prescription drug mistakes
Medicine mistakes can happen in the hospital, at the pharmacy or at home. But there are a lot of ways to help keep you and your family safe. For example, get comfortable with asking your doctor and pharmacist questions about the drugs you take. And make sure you get the answers you need.
Here are some of the most common reasons for prescription drug mistakes:
- Sound-alike names - Drug names can be confusing for patients and doctors. Taxol and Taxotere sound alike, but treat very different forms of cancer.
- Unclear handwriting – This can lead to you taking too much or too little of your medicine.
- Forgetting to take your medicine - Perhaps you forgot that you took your pill in the morning, so you take another one in the afternoon.
- Mixing your medicines - Some drugs don't mix well with others. If you take more than one medicine, they could interact in a bad way.
- Taking the wrong medicine - The pharmacist may misread the name of a drug if the handwriting is unclear.
Ways to prevent mistakes
Here's how doctors and pharmacists help to prevent mistakes:
- They check your records to make sure that a prescription is right for you and your conditions.
- Pharmacy computers do safety checks automatically.
- Some hospitals and doctors' offices order drugs using computerized systems.
- Hospitals use ID bracelets and tracking systems to make sure the right patient gets the right drug.
- Some doctors use handheld computers that checks for potentially harmful drug interactions.
- Labels on drug bottles warn people to avoid alcohol, for example, while taking the drug.
What you can do
- When you get a new prescription, ask your doctor the name of the drug, the dosage and what it does. Ask when and how often to take it. Write it down.
- Learn about your medicine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for written information you can understand. Or, look up the drugs using our drug search and interactions tool.
- Before leaving the pharmacy, read the prescription label to make sure the medicine name and dosage are what your doctor prescribed. Look at the medicine to see if anything seems different. If you have questions, ask the pharmacist.
- Stick to your medicine schedule. Don't take more or less than your doctor tells you to. Don't stop taking the medicine without checking with your doctor first.
- Know what side effects your medicine can cause, and what to do if they occur. If you start to feel strange or sick after beginning a new medicine, call your doctor right away.
- Keep medicine in its original container. Never take medicine in the dark. Always look to make sure you're taking the correct drug.
- If you tend to forget to take your medicine, try using special pill boxes to help you remember your schedule.
- Make sure your doctors and pharmacist know everything you are taking, including prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, herbs and vitamins. Tell them about your known allergies.
- In the hospital, make sure that everyone knows your medical and medicine history, including allergies and previous bad reactions to anesthesia. Ask about any new medicine you get. Ask the nurse to make sure it's what the doctor ordered.
- If you are too ill or feel uncomfortable asking questions, have a family member or friend do this for you.
Find more tips at ConsumerMedSafety.org.