Medication Errors

Each year an astounding 1.3 million people are injured in the US due to medication errors.  According to The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention,  a medication error is defined as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer…related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing; order communication; product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature; compounding; dispensing; distribution; administration; education; monitoring; and use.”

A study performed by the FDA revealed that the most common cases of fatal medication errors involve:

  • Incorrect dosage of medication (41%)
  • Wrong drug prescribed (16%)
  • Improper route of medication administration (16%)

Additionally, it was documented that nearly half of those who are killed by medication errors are people aged 60 or older.  This may be due to the fact that many aging people take multiple prescriptions at a time to combat different ailments.
So what can you, as a patient, do to prevent being a victim of a medication error?  The answer is relatively simple: ask questions.  It’s important, however, that you know the right ones to ask.

What is the name of the drug?
What is it used for?
What is the proper dosage?
What are the dosage directions (ie. how often, by what method, etc.)?
Are there any storage requirements (ie. does it need to be refrigerated)?
Are there any other special instructions?

It is also critical that you discuss any and all other drugs you are currently taking with your doctor before a prescription is written for you.  This includes over the counter medications and dietary supplements.  This will aid in the prevention of possible dangerous drug interactions.

The bottom line is, you must be an advocate for your own healthcare, and you should never be afraid to ask questions or request further information before you begin any prescription medication treatments.  Remember, doctors and pharmacists are human too and can all too often make mistakes, as evidenced by the statistics referenced above.  The more you know, the less likely you are of becoming a victim of medication error.


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