Medications: Make No Mistake

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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

Medications: Make No Mistake

Seniors' Health
Physical Health
Medications: Make No Mistake
Medications: Make No Mistake
Although not every possible medication mishap is within your control, there are plenty of ways to help keep yourself safe from harm -- both in and out of the hospital.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Drug mix-ups kill thousands of people every year.
Here's how to protect yourself.

Quite often, these errors are drug related and are fairly mild and resolve. Unfortunately, some adverse reactions are severe. Each year, tens of thousands of Americans die as a result of such errors.

Although not every possible mishap is within your control, there are plenty of ways to help keep yourself safe from harm — both in and out of the hospital. The following tips include many from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

What to do . . . In the hospital

  • Start with a complete drug review. Bring to the hospital either a complete list of all your medications or put all the medications in a bag. This includes all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as herbal products and other supplements. Although the hospital will use its own supply of medications needed during your stay, at least the staff will know what you've been taking.
  • Ask the name and purpose of every drug you're given during your hospital stay. This keeps you informed — and forces your caregivers to check what they're administering.
  • Identify a professional who will communicate with you once a day to explain dosages. The best is your admitting primary care physician, but nurses and house staff can all be helpful.
  • If you get a medicine that looks different from what you're used to taking, speak up immediately. Maybe the brand or dosage was changed — or maybe someone made a mistake.
  • Competent staff will always check each patient's identification bracelet before administering any medication. Make sure they do.
  • If a family member helps you at home, have them advocate for you when you're not feeling well. They'll monitor all the drug changes with you.
  • If you feel unwell after a medicine, notice a rash, or have a stomach upset let your medical team know. A side effect may be appearing.
  • When you are getting ready to go home, ask questions about your medicines — what each one is for, how to take it, what to do if you miss a dose, what side effects to watch for, and how to avoid interactions.

. . . In the doctor's office

  • Each time you see your doctor, do another drug review.
  • When your doctor writes a new prescription, take notes: what is the brand name, generic name, the purpose, dosage, how to take it and how long to take it. Increasingly, more drug information is becoming available on the Web, or your doctor can provide you with some written information.

. . . At the pharmacy

  • Talk to your pharmacist about your medications.
  • Every prescription dispensed today should come with a patient information sheet describing everything you need to know about the drug. If you don't get one, ask for it. Then read it.
  • Let the pharmacist know all the medicines you take.
  • Consider patronizing a single pharmacy. Doing so increases the chances that computer records will flag potentially dangerous drug combinations.
  • If you get a refill and the packaging or the product looks different than it did the last time, find out why.

. . . At home

  • Read the information sheet before taking any drug - and read the label each time you take it.
  • Don't take an expired drug, unless you have shown the bottle to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Discard drugs you no longer take.
  • Don't take drugs in darkness, no matter how sure you are that you're grabbing the right bottle.
  • Store all medicines well out of reach of children.
  • If you are a complex patient (more than three prescription drugs), it is advisable to have a "buddy" system. Someone can check your daily intake of medicines, ensure you are on schedule and know of all the changes being made. A diary is helpful if you noticed a new symptom after a certain pill.


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Last updated August 11, 2012

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