drug error prevention

How to Stay Safe and Prevent Drug Errors


Fall and winter is the prime time of year for the flu virus to multiply. As the busiest season for doctors, hospitals and pharmacists, it is also the most prevalent time for prescription errors. With the possibility of the flu virus just around the corner, holiday gatherings and packed shopping malls are places rife with germs. With the hectic hustle and bustle, this is also the time to pay special attention to prescription drugs and possible errors.

According to Consumer Reports On Health, at least 1.5 million serious, preventable drug errors occur in the U.S. each year. Potentially lethal mix-ups occur for a variety of reasons. Getting a medicine other than the one prescribed for the patient is one of the most common mistakes that happen. Yet many patients do not even open the bag when purchasing their prescription.

Look-a-like drugs that have names that are very close in spelling are often one cause for the mix up. Two of the most common mix-up drugs are Celebrex vs. Celexa or Zantac vs. Zyrtec. These drugs are for different types of illness, yet their spelling is similar. Errors of this type occur most often when phoned-in orders are written in sloppy handwriting or poor physician penmanship is mistaken. Although electronic prescription systems are available, many doctors offices have not come up to speed electronically.

Even the best laid plans can still go astray. Mistakes can cause lethal drug errors and result in possible malpractice suits. Therefore, it is best to follow steps to prevent drug errors. For best health results and prevention of drug errors that could be lethal, follow these steps.

Doctors’ Office Prevention

Make sure you can read any new prescription before leaving your doctor’s office. If you cannot read the prescription, a pharmacist might not be able to read it either. If you can’t, ask the doctor for a legible one. Get a written or printed version, even if the prescription is phoned in or sent in electronically. Then check the information on the label when it is picked up.

Be wary of free doctors samples. They often lack printed instructions. They are also usually the more expensive brand of the drug. The generic brand may be cheaper, but it will also require another prescription once the samples have been used.

Prevention at the Pharmacy

Always use the same pharmacy. Using the same pharmacy will allow the pharmacist to track all the prescription and OTC drugs and keep track of your allergies and chronic health problems.

Make sure the drug is for you. Open the bag and make sure it is your name on the container. The cashier should check at least one form of ID.

Compare the label with what you were expecting. Check the name, dosage and purpose. If they are different from what you were expecting, ask why.

Double check older refills for color, shape and size of the originals. If any of these are different from the original, check with the pharmacist to make sure you are getting the same prescription.

Prevention While Hospitalized

If hospitalized, show your drug list to the admitting staff. Make sure the doctor is aware what drugs you are on. This is especially important if you are going to have surgery. Some drugs or supplements can increase bleeding or raise blood pressure.

Double check your doses. Hospital nurses are busy and can make mistakes. Always check your dose and make sure the nurse checks your chart before giving you medication. Be extra careful with new drugs. Have the nurse tell you the name and dose of any new drug as well as the purpose. Make sure this is checked with your ID bracelet. Check all medication before taking them. If anything seems wrong or not fit with what the doctor talked with you about, do not take the drug until verifying with medical personnel that it is the right medication ordered for you.

Going Home

Before leaving the hospital, make sure you have a list of the drugs you are being sent home with, even if they are being phoned into your pharmacy. Understand what each prescription is for, its name and purpose, the instructions and the possible side effects. Be sure you understand which prescriptions are new and which ones, if any, are deleted from your drug list.

The bottom line is to continually check and recheck your medication. Protect yourself from dangerous medication errors. Mistakes can happen at any stage in the process. Make sure you, your doctor and your pharmacist are all aware of the medication you take. The steps above can help you get the right drugs and take them properly.

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