Preventing Medication Errors

Patients should be willing to ask questions and insist on getting answers.

Ian Stewart, BSc Phm

Today, Canadians have access to high quality health care that helps to maintain or restore health and well being. Our health-care professionals are extensively trained, dedicated and committed to providing the best possible patient care.

But when it comes to taking medicines, patients must understand that they, too, play an important role in preventing errors and ensuring their safety. A well-informed patient can be a crucial last check on the safety of any medication.

Some patients may be unwilling to question their health-care providers; they may perceive them as being too busy or intimidating, or believe that it is disrespectful to question their doctor or pharmacist. In fact, patients should be willing to ask questions and insist on getting answers.

Here are some things that patients can do to avoid medication errors and make sure they are receiving the best possible drug therapy.

  • Keep and up to date list of all medications you’re taking, including samples received from the doctor, nonprescription drugs, vitamins and herbal products. This record should also list any medication and food allergies and chronic medical conditions. The information should be shared with all health-care providers on every visit.
  • Know the name, purpose and dosage instructions for all newly prescribed medications before leaving the doctor’s office. This information will help the pharmacist dispense the prescription exactly as the doctor intended.
  • When receiving any medication, be aware of both the brand and generic names, the purpose, the dosage, when it’s to be taken and possible side effects. Ask your pharmacist to also provide this information in written form.
  • If you receive any medication that looks different than what you have had before, do not assume it is merely a change in brand. Also, if you experience any unexpected side effect, do not assume it will simply go away. If at any time something seems wrong, contact your pharmacist or doctor immediately.
  • Read labels carefully every time before you take any medication. This is especially important for patients taking multiple medications. Many patients have taken the wrong drug as a result of grabbing the wrong bottle. Know exactly what you ar putting in your mouth before swallowing it.
  • When purchasing nonprescription drugs, patients and caregivers must read the label carefully to confirm the correct drug and dosage. Products should not be bought based on the brand name alone. Many nonprescription drugs have similar names but come in different formats and contain different active ingredients. for example, some children’s medicines may be available in different strengths, and purchasing the wrong strength could result in the administration of double the required dose.
  • Hospitalized patients should know the name, purpose and dosage intervals of all medications they’re receiving, and if the patient is not well enough, a family member should be willing to act on the patient’s behalf.

Clearly, patients play a vital role in preventing medication errors. And your pharmacist can be a key partner. Pharmacists are the most accessible health-care professionals, and they are well positioned to answer all your questions to ensure safe medication use. Be an educated patient – ASK YOUR PHARMACIST.