Many of us rely on medication to stay healthy. But if you’re not careful, a medication error can make you sicker or even result in a trip to the emergency room or a hospital stay.
Medication errors are the inappropriate or incorrect use of medication resulting in an adverse drug event. They can stem from improper communication between medical providers, misinterpreting handwriting on prescriptions, drug name confusion, an unclear medication label or lack of patient understanding for how to properly take a medication.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, adverse drug events account for more than 700,000 emergency room visits and more than 100,000 hospitalizations each year.
To help avoid a medication error, follow these tips:
- Create a list of all of your medications – Know the names of the medications you take, when you should take them, why you are taking them and instructions for each one. Bring your list with you when you see your physician. Whenever you pick up a prescription from your pharmacist, make sure you understand the instructions and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Consult with a primary care physician – Your primary care physician can help you coordinate all of your care and make sure you don’t have any medication overlaps that can lead to drug interactions or unnecessary duplicate therapies.
- Keep health providers aware of allergies – In addition, get a medical alert bracelet or pendant to notify medical professionals to any severe allergies you may have so they avoid exposing you to those substances.
- Use a medication planner – Having a planner can help you stay organized and keep track of all the medications you take.
- Adhere to medication plan – Make sure you follow medication instructions exactly as provided by your physician or pharmacist. Missing just one or two doses may put you at risk for an adverse drug event. Make sure you know what to do if you miss one or more doses. If you are uncertain, contact your physician or pharmacist.
- Read the labels – Medication labels will instruct you on the best way to take each dose. For example, some pills are meant to be long lasting so if you crush them it releases the medication too fast. This can cause an adverse reaction or even death.
- Only use your medications – Medications are lifesavers but they can also be dangerous. Make sure you only take medication that is prescribed to you and take it as your doctor has instructed.
- Discard old and discontinued medications – If a medication is expired, it may not work as well or could be contaminated. If a drug has been discontinued, discard it. To learn more about proper drug disposal, read 5 Tips for Safe Medication Disposal.
Medicare members may qualify for a Medication Therapy Management program. Through the program, a pharmacist or other provider will do a comprehensive review of your medications and provide a personal medication list plus drug therapy action plan.
To find out if you qualify for a Medication Therapy Management program, or to learn more about avoiding medication errors, reach out to your health insurance provider. They can provide materials to coach you on safe medication use as well as point you toward tools and tips to help you avoid adverse drug events.