Avoiding medication errors

Medication errors can be harmful – learn what you can do to prevent them.

Michigan State University Extension provides information on ways to live a healthier life. One of those ways is to learn to take an active role in your own health care. You can start by going through a process of medication reconciliation. This process is a complete review of all your current medications, including those prescribed by all of your doctors, any over the counter medications, vitamins or herbal supplements. This process can help reduce your risk of harm due to medication errors.

According to the Mayo Clinic, errors in prescribing, dispensing and taking medications causes harm to thousands of people each year. The most common causes of medication errors have to do with poor communication between health care providers, and between providers and patients. Another cause is confusion over medications that have names that sound alike. For example Zantac (used for stomach issues) and Xanax (used for anxiety).

Some common mistakes include:

  • Confusing eye drops with eardrops
  • Chewing non-chewable medication
  • Cutting up pills
  • Using the wrong spoon to measure medication

When starting new medications, the Mayo Clinic suggests asking your doctor the following questions:

  • What is the brand name and what is the generic name?
  • What is it supposed to do? How long will it be until I see results?
  • What is the dose? How long should I take it?
  • Are there any foods, drinks or other medications I should avoid while taking it?
  • What are the possible side effects and what should I do if I have any of them?
  • What do I do if I miss a dose?
  • What should I do if I accidently take more than the recommended dose?
  • Will this new medication interfere with any of my current medications?

Other things you can do to protect yourself from medication errors include:

  • Keep a written, up to date list of all medications including over the counter and vitamins
  • Always keep them in their original containers
  • Read and keep the information sheets included with the medication
  • Use the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions

You may find it helpful to bring this list of questions to your next doctor’s appointment. You are the best resource in protecting yourself from medication errors. Never be afraid to ask any and all questions you have with your health care provider.

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