Solutions and Helpful Medication Safety Tips
How to prevent common medication errors
Unfortunately, medication errors do occur. Fortunately when mistakes do occur there are usually no serious effects however every once in a while these mistakes can hurt you or a family member by mistake. We all need to be vigilant about our own healthcare. It is very important that you take an active role by learning about your medicines so you can help prevent mistakes!
Having Trouble Swallowing Your Medication
Mistakes can occur when people have trouble swallowing a tablet or capsule and they try to chew, crush, break or mix the tablet or capsule in their food or drinks. This can cause a bad effect because some are long-acting medicines that will be released too fast. Other medicines either will not work properly or could even make you sick.
If you have trouble swallowing medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist if the drug is available in a liquid form. Never chew, crush, break or mix the tablet or capsule in fluid unless your doctor or pharmacist says it is all right to do so. There are a number of medication forms that your doctor or pharmacist can recommend.
Some medications are long acting or have a special release mechanism that can be altered or destroyed when you change the drug in any way. As a general rule, if the drug’s name is followed by the letters “LA” (long acting), “CR” (controlled released), “SR” (sustained release), etc., or the drug is to be taken every 12 hours or once a day, you have to swallow the tablet or capsule whole for it to work right. This rule is also true for over-the-counter medicines that are long acting. Take your medications with water rather than other liquids because these might change how your drug works.
Medication Mix-ups and Mistakes with Multiple Prescriptions
If you have a long-term condition (heart condition, diabetes, etc.), you may have to take many different kinds of medications. Sometimes, you may also have medications ordered by different doctors. This can lead to mix-ups and medication mistakes may occur when you have many prescriptions.
As a safety measure, ask to schedule a “brown bag check-up” with your prescribing doctor or pharmacist. A brown bag check-up is when you gather all of your current medications and over- the-counter products (including herbal products or “natural products”) into a brown bag and show them to your doctor or pharmacist so he/she can look for any potential problems.
Schedule your brown bag appointment in advance so the doctor or pharmacist plans enough time for the visit. A good rule is to have a single doctor “in charge” or aware of all the medications and products you take.
Drug Names That Sound Alike
Mistakes can sometimes happen when your doctor orders a new medicine or when there is a change in the dose of a drug you have been taking. This may happen because some drug names may sound-alike (when the prescriber calls in the prescription) or look alike(when the pharmacist reads handwritten prescriptions or picks the incorrect drug from the shelf).
When your doctor gives you a prescription for a new medicine, ask him/her to write the reason why you are taking the medicine right on the prescription. This will help the pharmacist give you the right medicine.
Even if you are busy or feel embarrassed, use the pharmacy’s confidential counseling service whenever you pick up new prescriptions or there is a change in your medications. When the clerk hands you your medication, ask to speak with the pharmacist. You need to make sure that the instructions on the label are the same as your doctor wrote on the prescription. Check the name of the medication, the condition it treats, the dosing instructions (how often you take it), and the number of times your prescription may be refilled. If something doesn’t seem right, ask your pharmacist to telephone your doctor. Never leave the pharmacy if you have questions about your medications or are unsure of how to take them.
Dosing Mistakes with Liquid Medicines
Dosing mistakes with liquid medicines can happen if you do not use the measuring device that came with the medicine or one that is right for that medicine. If you use a medicine cup from another medicine, it may be a different size or have different markings that could cause you to take the wrong amount of medicine. When a teaspoon is ordered it means 5 mL, but since not all household teaspoons are the same size you could be taking either too much or too little.
When you take or give liquid medicines only use the measuring device such as a dropper that comes with the medicine. If you get a liquid medicine from the pharmacy and it does not come with a measuring device, ask the pharmacist if he/she can give you a special oral syringe or tell you what device you should buy to measure the medicine.
With many medicines, and especially for children and older people, it is very important that the exact dose of the medicine be given. Ask your pharmacist to show you how to properly use the measuring device for the dose and to what marking you should fill the device. Make sure you understand before you leave the pharmacy.
Medication Safety Problems when using multiple pharmacies
Medication safety problems (such as getting two prescriptions for the same drug and taking two drugs together that cause a bad side effect) can sometimes happen when you use more than one pharmacy to dispense your prescriptions. For example, your family doctor may write a prescription for Coumadin (brand name) to prevent blood clots and your specialist may order the drug by its generic name, warfarin. If you fill them at different pharmacies, both pharmacists would dispense the prescription. Other problems occur when you have prescriptions for two different medications filled at two different pharmacies. For example, your gynecologist gives you a prescription for birth control pills and your primary care physician gives you a prescription for antibiotics. In this case, neither pharmacist will be able to tell you that your birth control pills may not work while you are taking antibiotics.
If you use more than one pharmacy to get your prescriptions, you should pick a primary pharmacy just like you choose a primary doctor. The primary pharmacy should keep an up-to-date personal medication record for you. This should include a complete list of all the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, herbals as well as your current and past medical conditions. The primary pharmacy should continually review your profile to check for duplications of therapy and drug interactions. If you take a lot of drugs it is well worth paying a pharmacist to look over all your medications for any problems in your care.
You should always know the brand and generic names of your medicines. Ask your doctor to tell you both names and make sure both drug names (generic and brand) are clearly written on your medicine containers.