Prescription drugs can save lives. They can also threaten or take them.
Medication errors harm more than 1.5 million patients each year, resulting in unnecessary visits to the emergency room and unnecessary hospital admissions.
The average adult takes six or seven drugs, and, as we age, that number may climb even higher. Older people are at increased risk of fatal medication errors because they often take multiple medications.
That's why it's so important to be aware and informed about medication errors. Among the most common errors? Administering an improper dose, giving the wrong drug and lack of communication.
Here's what you can do to protect yourself against errors that could potentially cost you your life.
- Always read the label—even if you've been taking the drug for a while. Information can change since you last used it.
- Keep medication in its original packaging so you can have the proper dosing information.
- Make sure you read the warnings that appear on the bottles. Research shows that less than 10 percent of people do.
- Ask your health care provider to include both the generic and brand name on the prescription to reduce risk of confusing the name of a drug.
- Know what you're taking and what its purpose is. Before leaving your health care provider's office, make sure you understand these things, and ask your provider to put the purpose of the prescription on the pharmacy order.
- Be clear on the directions. Does taking it three times daily mean once at each meal, or does it mean spread out in 8-hour increments? How should the medicine be stored? What are the possible side effects? Are there foods, medications or beverages you should avoid while taking it? Do you take it on a full or empty stomach?
- Keep a list of all the medications you currently take—including over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, herbs and anything else you take, and make sure your health care providers get a copy of the list. Don't forget things like laxatives, vitamins, sleeping aids and birth control pills. (Some can interfere with the effectiveness of the prescribed drug.)
- If possible, use the same pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions. This way, your records are in one place.
- Inform your doctor and pharmacist of any medication allergies or drug reactions you've experienced.
- Be on the lookout for pills that look different than normal (different colors, sizes), and be alert if you notice a different drug name or directions than you've seen in the past.