Reduce the risk of medication error

Dear Mayo Clinic: My friend’s father recently passed away from a medication error. One of her prescriptions was improperly filled and caused a fatal reaction. I take several medications for various conditions. How can I reduce my risk of medication error?

Reply: Medication errors are errors in prescribing and dispensing medication. These mistakes hurt hundreds of thousands of people every year in the United States. Common causes of medication errors include drug names that look similar, drugs that look similar, and medical abbreviations. Most medication errors can be avoided.

Knowledge is your best defense against medication errors.

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of medication errors is to take an active role in your health care. Learn about any medications you are taking, including possible side effects. Never hesitate to ask questions or share your concerns with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Medication errors can happen to anyone, anywhere, including your home and your health care provider’s office, as well as a hospital, pharmacy, or retirement home. Children are particularly prone to medication errors because they usually need different doses of medication than adults.

Medication errors include confusing ear and eye drops and the wrong dose. For example, if you take an over-the-counter product that contains acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, while you are already taking a prescription pain reliever that contains acetaminophen, you may have taken more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen. putting you at risk for liver damage.

Another example of a possible medication error is taking a depression medication called fluoxetine (Prozac or Sarafem) with a migraine medication called sumatriptan (Imitrex). Both drugs affect the levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain. Taking them together can lead to a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms include confusion, restlessness, a fast heartbeat, and an increase in body temperature.

It is important to keep medicines in their original labeled containers and to read the instructions on how to take them carefully.

Don’t assume that chewing a pill is as effective as swallowing it. Some medicines should never be chewed, cut or crushed. It can change the way the body absorbs them. Ensuring an accurate dose of liquid medicine is essential, so avoid using spoons in your cutlery drawer rather than a syringe or dose cup, both of which are available at most drugstores.

Your healthcare provider can help prevent medication errors by using a computer to enter and print, or send prescriptions digitally, instead of writing prescriptions by hand. When you pick up a prescription, make sure it’s the one your healthcare provider ordered. It also allows you to keep the information sheets that accompany your medications.

Another way to reduce the risk of medication errors is to reconcile your medications at each visit with your health care provider. This involves comparing your health care provider’s medication list with the medication list you are taking, which can help avoid medication errors.

It is important to share this information:

>> The names and strengths of all medications you are taking and when you take them, including prescriptions; herbs; vitamins; food supplements; over-the-counter drugs; vaccines; and anything received intravenously, including diagnostic and contrast agents, radioactive drugs, feeding tube supplements, and blood products.

>> All medicines to which you are allergic or which have caused problems in the past.

>> Whether you have new, chronic or serious health problems.

>> If you could be pregnant or are trying to become pregnant.

Also, keep an up-to-date list of all your medications, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, in your wallet, purse, or other safe place.

Being prepared and informed is the best way to avoid health problems.


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