How can I decrease the chance of medication errors?

The more you know about your medicines, the better equipped you’ll be to decrease the chances for medication errors. The US Food and Drug Administration and the US-based Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) are two good organizations with websites to help you be “in the know” about the medicines you or your loved ones are taking. Several suggestions for safe medication use at home include:
  • Know the color and shape of your medicines. If either is different when you pick up your prescription, call your pharmacist or healthcare provider to find out why before you take them. Look at any prescription before you leave the pharmacy so you can ask questions right away.
  • Think about what your medicines taste like. If it tastes funny when you first take them at home, call your pharmacist to find out why. Remember that some medicines look very similar.
  • Know why you are taking your medicines. It is helpful to know both the medical terminology and the more patient-friendly name of your condition.
  • Know how your medicines might make you feel. If you take them at home and feel different after you take them, call your physician or pharmacist.
  • Do not share your medicines with anyone.
  • Do not split your medications or take a reduced dosage unless your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
  • Organize your medicines at home so that they are less apt to get confused with other housemates’ medications. Keep your medicines in the bottle they came in until you are ready to use them or put them in a pill pack.
  • Don’t take your medicines in the dark.
  • Get your medicines from the same pharmacy so that all of your medication records are in the same place. This will help minimize the chances for you to take two medicines together that might have a dangerous or harmful interaction.
  • While at the pharmacy, ask questions about how your medications might interact with your diet, over-the-counter medications, supplements, medicinal herbs, or food additives.
  • Make sure you know the brand name, generic name and primary active ingredients in your medicines. Have your physician, nurse or pharmacist write them down so you can read them.
  • Share your medication list with a family member and keep it visible at home in case of emergencies (such as on a refrigerator or a bulletin board).
  • Read all instructions and take your medications as directed.
There are thousands of drugs on the market today and many have similar names. Double-check prescriptions with the pharmacist. Compare the medication in the bottle to the label description and ask about possible drug interactions. Read information fully to understand side effects and safety warnings.
Don’t be shy. When getting a new prescription, ask about potential interactions with food or other drugs. Tell your doctor about everything you take, including over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements.

Fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, preferably one with a computerized system for flagging potential problems. Read the package insert for OTC drugs and any information on your prescriptions from the pharmacist. Review the information every time. If new information becomes known, you won’t want to miss it.

If you’re taking more than one OTC drug, pay attention to the active ingredients in the products to avoid taking too much of a particular drug.

Keep medications in their original containers so that you can easily identify them.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Millions of Americans are harmed each year because of prescription drug mistakes. In this video, a professor of pharmacy tells Dr. Oz the most common mistakes patients make with their meds, and how to avoid them. Watch it before you fill your next prescription.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.