Think about your medicine cabinet. If you have at least one prescription drug on a shelf, you’re in good company. According to a study published this year by the National Center for Health Statistics, about 46% of of the U.S. population (about 150 million) used prescription drugs during 2015-2016 with approximately 85% of adults over the age of 60 taking prescribed medications. Drugs today are more targeted than ever, which means each medication is designed to treat specific symptoms or disorders . With over 10,000 prescription medications available, it isn’t surprising that mistakes happen. What might be surprising is how often they do.
A preventable adverse drug event is defined as harm to a patient as a result of a medication error that reaches the patient. A medication error can occur at any time in the process including when the physician writes the order, when the order is transcribed or interpreted, when the order is dispensed or filled, or when the patient is given the medication. A study has found that the most common (almost 50%) errors occur when medications are prescribed and ordered.
So, what can you do as a patient to reduce your risk of a medication error? There are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Be informed. Understand what you’re being prescribed, its purpose, the dosage, and how you are to take the medication. If you have any questions, be sure to get clarification from your physician.
- Fully disclose to your doctor or pharmacist any over-the-counter medications or supplements you take. Every substance you ingest has a chemical composition that can adversely react with a prescription drug, even herbal supplements and essential oils.
- Read the label. When you receive the medication, confirm that your name is on the label and check the drug name, dose, and instructions on how/when to take it. If you have questions or concerns, bring it up with the pharmacist or call your doctor’s office before taking the medication.
- Take as prescribed. Do follow your doctor’s instructions and check your label for any caution information.
- Don’t discount symptoms. Negative reactions to medication can show up in a number of ways. Some examples are skin rash, headache, drowsiness, nausea, agitation, diarrhea, and dizziness. If you experience anything unusual after starting a medication, call your doctor immediately.
If you do find you’ve received a medication in error which has resulted in an adverse reaction, seek a medical evaluation, be sure to document what happened and don’t throw out your medication, the bottle or the packaging labels. You may want to contact an attorney with a background in medication errors and medical malpractice to understand your legal options.