According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 82 percent of American adults are taking at least one drug and 29 percent are taking five or more. Treatment errors are common. These mistakes can cause harm to patients and are the reason for approximately 700,000 emergency dept. visits a year in the U.S.
Common medication errors
According to the Mayo Clinic, the more common mistakes include:
- Taking prescription pain medicine and over-the-counter products that both contain acetaminophen, exceeding the recommended dose of acetaminophen and increasing the risk of liver damage.
- Talking prescription drugs with different names but with the same ingredients at levels that increase the risk of overdose.
- Chewing non-chewable drugs.
- Cutting up pills that are supposed to be swallowed whole.
- Using the wrong spoon to measure the dosage.
- Doubling up or missing doses.
Why mistakes occur
The most common reasons why medication errors occur are:
- Poor communication between healthcare providers and their patients.
- Poor communication between healthcare providers.
- Drugs having names or abbreviations that sound alike.
- Many medications looking similar such as eye drops and ear drops.
Questions patients should ask
As a patient, you should ask questions to make sure you understand when and how to take the medication, any potential side effects, and special instructions such as "take with food," or "drink lots of water." Some medications such as certain antibiotics should not be taken with multivitamins. Other drugs may make you sleepy and should not be used before driving or operating machinery.
Here are some questions to ask medical professionals:
- What is the name of the medication?
- What is this going to do for me?
- When will I start seeing the results?
- What is the dosage?
- How long should I take the medication?
- Are there any drinks, foods, supplements or activities I should avoid while taking it?
- What do I do if I miss a dose?
- What side effects may occur and what should I do if they appear?
- What do I do if I accidently take more than the recommended dose?
- Will this medication interfere with the medication I am already taking?
Steps to prevent medication errors
There are number of steps that can be taken to ensure that medication errors do not occur:
- Use the same pharmacy for all of your prescriptions.
- Keep an up-to-date list of all the prescriptions or supplements that you take, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbal remedies, and vaccines.
- Discuss this list with your healthcare provider.
- Tell your healthcare provider if you have had allergic reactions or problems with drugs in the past
- Store drugs in their original containers.
- Save the information sheets that you received with your prescriptions.
- Keep daily drugs in a pill dispenser or pillbox.
- Do not cut pills unless your doctor or pharmacist says it is safe to do so.
- Use an oral syringe or a dose cup for liquid medications to ensure the dosage is correct.
- Do not give someone else your medication or take someone else's.
Another process that can prevent medical errors is to compare new prescriptions against existing ones, a process called medication reconciliation. Doctors can also check for any potential negative interactions between new prescriptions and existing medications.
Communication between healthcare providers and patients are key to ensuring that medications do not occur. Patients also need to educate themselves about the dosages, possible side effects, special instructions, and characteristics of the medications that they are taking.