Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Yourself From Medication Mistakes

Over 770,000 medication mistakes occur every year, contributing to approximately 7,000 deaths in the United States. When it comes to medications some mistakes are deadlier than others.

Medication mistakes can happen anywhere: as an in-patient at a hospital or from simply misreading illegible handwriting resulting in administering 100 times the dose of a medication you are supposed to receive. Medication mistakes can happen at a pharmacy when two similarly abbreviated medications are given to you, the unknowing patient. Or, medication mistakes can happen when you take multiple medications without understanding how they may interact with each other. Whatever the cause, the best way to handle a medication mistake is to prevent it from occurring.

While it may be difficult to monitor the medications administered to you as an in-patient in a hospital setting or know the differences between medications handed to you by a pharmacist, there are simple steps you can take to lessen your risk of becoming the victim of a medication mistake.

The first step: Empower yourself with knowledge.

  • Make sure you understand the brand and generic names of the medications you are taking, including how they are spelled and properly pronounced.
  • Be sure to double check the dosage both on the prescription, the bottle, and with the pharmacist to make sure that it is consistent with your understanding of what the doctor prescribed.
  • Read the directions on the drug pamphlets (even if you’ve read them in the past), and then re-read them again!
  • Make sure you understand how and when to take your medications, and what to do if you miss a dose.

The second step:   Ask for help.

  • So many of us are reluctant to “burden” our friends or family by asking for help, when in fact, many are just waiting to be asked! Having someone advocate for you, when you are too ill to advocate for yourself may mean the difference between life and death.

Lastly:  Keep the members of your healthcare team advised of the medications you are taking, and leverage their expertise in the medical field.

  • Tell your pharmacist about a new drug you were prescribed and ask him/her if it will interact with any of the other medications you are taking.
  • Tell your doctor, physician assistant, home healthcare nurse, or therapist about the medications you are taking.
  • Tell your family members what medications you are taking so that in the event of an emergency, they can pass along this critical information to your healthcare providers.

Do’s and Don’ts to avoid being the victim of a medication mistake:

Do know the brand and generic names of your medications.
Do know the dose you are supposed to take.
Do seek out a friend or family member to act as a patient advocate on your behalf when you are an in-patient at any hospital or medical facility.
Don’t take for granted that you know how to take the medication. Read the directions carefully and each time when taking your medications.
Do prepare a list of all of the medications you are taking and bring it to your pharmacist every time you fill or refill a prescription to determine whether any of the drugs you are currently taking interact with each other.
Do keep your family doctor or internist advised of all medications you are taking, both prescribed and over-the-counter.
Don’t assume that your healthcare providers are all aware of each and every medication you are taking.
Don’t assume that the pills in the bottle are the pills you were prescribed.
Do routinely check the expiration dates on all of your medications.
Do keep your list of medications with you at all times.
Don’t double-up your medications if you’ve missed taking a dose.

Being a proactive patient is an important step in protecting yourself from medication errors. However, when they do occur, be sure to contact a trial attorney with experience in pharmacy errors.