10 Tips to Prevent Medication Errors

Medication errors can cause harm to you or your family

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Unfortunately, medication errors occur relatively often — and they can potentially cause harm to you or your family.

By following these safety tips, you can help prevent medication errors from occurring at home and keep you and your family safe.

1) Be Involved in Your Health Care

Ask your doctor or pharmacist questions about your medications and what they are used to treat. When picking up your medication at the pharmacy, you will know what medication you are expecting to pick up.

Being involved becomes more important when you take several medications for one health condition. Knowing what medications you take and for what condition can help you identify issues that can potentially be harmful if not identified. These issues may include duplicate therapy (taking two of the same medication or two of the same type of medication), drug allergies, changes in dose and discontinuation of medications.

2) Use One Pharmacy and One Doctor

Having multiple doctors and pharmacies can be problematic. When you have multiple doctors, one doctor may not be aware of what the other is prescribing. This can result in you getting medications of the same type and medications that interact with each other.

Furthermore, if you use more than one pharmacy, neither pharmacist will have enough information to identify these issues. Filling your prescriptions at one pharmacy can prevent you from receiving duplicate therapy and medications that may interact with each other.

If you must have multiple doctors, keep an up-to-date medication list that you can provide to each of them.

3) Keep Your Medications Separate

Keeping medications separate helps keep you from confusing your medications and taking them incorrectly.

Some medications require certain storage conditions. For example, nitroglycerin tablets, used to treat chest pain, must be kept in an amber (dark-colored) glass bottle to keep their potency.

4) Always Read and Follow Doctor or Pharmacist Instructions

Do not take more medication than instructed by your doctor and pharmacist. Taking more medication than recommended can result in more side effects and may cause you harm. Following instructions also includes not missing any doses.

5) Use the Right Tools

If you need to use a measuring device to take your medication, always use the appropriate one, such as the one provided with your medication.

Kitchen spoons do not count. Using the appropriate measuring device ensures you are receiving the correct amount of medication.

6) Don't Chew or Crush Medications

Unless your doctor or pharmacist says so, that is. Patients who have trouble swallowing medication may try to cut, chew, open, or crush the tablet or capsule. This may become an issue with long-acting medications such as those that are available in XR, XL, SR and ER formulations.

When the long-acting formulations are cut, crushed or chewed, they may release the medication too quickly and not last the way they are designed to. Also, they may actually cause you harm if they are not administered as instructed.

Always ask your doctor or pharmacist about the best way to administer your medication. If you or a loved one has difficulty swallowing, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. Health professionals can recommend a suitable formulation.

7) Tell the Whole Story

Be sure to relay any information on allergies or previous issues with medications to your doctor and pharmacist.

If you are allergic to a certain medication or have had a previous issue with one, it is critical that you relay that information to all of your doctors and pharmacists. This will help prevent you from receiving that particular medication or a similar medication in the future.

8) Get Rid of Old Medications

Dispose of all medications you are no longer taking or those that have expired. Expired medications are no longer as effective because they lose potency after their expiration date. Furthermore, some medications, when taken after the expiration date, may cause you harm.

9) Stay on Schedule

Always get your refills on time to avoid missing any doses. Missing a dose of your medication can be considered a medication error through omission.

Missing doses can delay your recovery or make it more difficult to manage your health condition. When you miss doses of certain medications and for certain health conditions, you can become more ill and may have to be treated in the hospital.

10) Keep a List

Keep an updated list of all medications you take, including over-the-counter medications and herbal/nutritional supplements. You can provide this list to your doctor and pharmacist.

Just because they are over-the-counter, herbal or nutritional supplements does not mean they are free of potential harm. Many of these products may interact with prescription medications and, as a result, may cause you harm.

In addition, these products may not be safe to take if you have certain health conditions. That's why it's critical that you disclose all of the medications and products you take to all of your health care providers.