Are Medication Errors 100% Avoidable?

Follow these top rules to avoid medication errors for your own care, or the care of a loved one.

Medication errors occur with more frequency than most people guess. Through the FDA program MedWatch, over 100,000 suspected errors are reported each year from consumers, healthcare professionals and drug manufacturers. Medication errors result in either adverse drug events (ADEs) or adverse drug reactions, also known as side effects. Errors are grouped according to type, but basically it comes down to people getting medications they shouldn’t have, or forgetting doses they should have.

It is said, “To err is human,” and that is true of every point in the medication process. Before computers were introduced into the process, errors were often made because prescriptions were translated wrong from doctor to pharmacy. Although technology has helped eliminate some of these errors, everyone should still be vigilant to keep everyone safe from adverse drug events.

Be familiar with generic names

One of the most common examples of generic names is Advil and Motrin, both brand names of the medicine ibuprofen. If someone didn’t realize these were both the same drug, they could take a combination that results in an overdose.

Now consider that same issue with prescription drugs. Some drugs may be the exact same generic name, but go by different brand names depending on what they are treating. This can be especially dangerous if a patient sees multiple doctors, or doesn’t share all of the medications they are currently taking because they assume symptoms aren’t related. Asking and knowing generic names can prevent possible overdoses or negative reactions from incompatible medications.

Always ask

This brings us to the second thing you can do to prevent errors with medicine: ask questions. Anyone prescribing or administering medication should know what the medication is for, how much is needed, and what the generic name is. If you’re uncertain, ask someone: your doctor, your pharmacist, or the person handing you a pill to take. 

There is also a lot of information available online. The FDA’s website ConsumerMedSafety.org  helps protect consumers against medication errors. Even a quick internet search can reveal information like generic names, typical dosage, etc.

At those times when someone else is giving you medication, like during a hospital stay, it can be easy to trust the medical professional. While these people are completely informed, mistakes can still be made without anyone meaning harm. Asking can be a simple way to confirm you’re getting the exact medication you need (nothing more, nothing less). 

Make sure all caregivers are informed

Many medical errors occur in a consumer’s own home, and are a result of poor communication. If you are taking your own medication at home, or have someone helping you with medication (even if it’s occasionally), it’s important to inform everyone about the medications involved. 

  • Double check the labels and dosage every time. This is especially important if there is more than one prescription you’re taking.
  • Keep drugs stored in original containers. Many pills look alike and can easily be confused.
  • Have all current medications on a list, including over-the-counter  and prescription ones. This will help anyone providing care at home, as well as doctors or other medical professionals. 

While we’re all human, and therefore prone to mistakes, keeping these things in mind can help drastically reduce adverse drug events from happening.

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