How You Can Avoid Medication Errors

Senior woman at the pharmacy
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Typically, people with arthritis take one or more medications to control symptoms and slow progression of the disease. The same is true of other chronic conditions. With medication use comes the potential for adverse drug events.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Adverse drug events (ADEs) are a serious public health problem. It is estimated that 82% of American adults take at least one medication and 29% take five or more.

700,000 emergency department visits and 120,000 hospitalizations are due to ADEs annually. $3.5 billion is spent on extra medical costs of ADEs annually. At least 40% of costs of ambulatory (non-hospital settings) ADEs are estimated to be preventable."

To avoid medication errors, the prescribing doctor, the pharmacy, the patient, and even their family must follow safety strategies for medication. As the patient, following a few simple, common sense tips can help you avoid most medication errors and ensure your safety:

  • Have your doctor explain what is written on any prescription given to you. Have your doctor verbally tell you what is being prescribed and how it should be used.
  • Be certain the prescription is legible and includes the purpose of the medication. Drug names can sometimes be confused, so adding the indication can help avoid that confusion. One example of this is Celebrex (for arthritis) and Celexa (for depression).
  • Use a reliable pharmacy which keeps a list of all medications that you take in their computer. Avoid unregulated Internet pharmacies. Having your prescriptions filled in one place helps to reduce the chance of errors. The computer will flag any possible drug interactions or irregularities. Knowing your pharmacist is yet another step towards safety.
  • Keep medications in their original, labeled containers or use a pill box or pill reminder to avoid errors and better organize your medications. Read the label on the bottle and the imprint on the pill every time you take a dose of medication to confirm you have the correct drug and are taking it properly. Check and double-check. If you use a pill box, do the same by matching the label on the bottle to the pill and fill your pill box slowly and cautiously.
  • Do not take medication in the dark where you can easily pick up the wrong container. Common sense, right? I shouldn't need to mention that, but it is surprising what some people do -- carelessly.
  • Never take medication that was prescribed for another person. Not even one pill. No exceptions.
  • Do not store medication in direct light, heat, or humidity. Improper storage of medication may cause deterioration and affect its effectiveness.
  • Do not store prescribed ointments near other pastes or creams where an easy mix-up could occur. Again, common sense. Store medications, ointments, creams, and liquids properly.
  • Do not take expired medications. The composition of old medications may change.
  • Learn how to dispose of your old, expired or unused medications in a safe, environmentally-friendly way.
  • When taking liquid medications use only the measuring cup that was included. Using any utensil other than the measuring cup provided could lead to taking too much of the liquid medication, or too little.
  • Keep a list of the name, dose, and frequency of all medications that you take, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbs, and supplements -- particularly since some herbs and supplements can have adverse interactions with prescription drugs.
  • Make sure your medication list matches your doctor's records and the list that the pharmacy has to avoid dangerous drug interactions. Keep everyone involved on the same page.
  • Obtain and read printed information about any new medication you receive from the pharmacy. The more you know about your medication, the better. Most important for you to know is the drug's name, the strength, the dose, why you need to take it, and potential side effects.

More Tips:

  • Be very familiar with the appearance of your drugs and notice if or when it changes. Your pharmacy may switch to a different drug manufacturer and the same drug may be a different shape or color. But, assume nothing. Know for sure.
  • Take your medications as directed by your doctor - and only as directed. No deviation. 
  • Always consult with your doctor before stopping a medication or when considering a treatment change.


Strategies to Reduce Medication Errors: Working to Improve Medication Safety. U.S. FDA.

Medication Safety Basics. CDC. Updated 08/14/2012.

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