If you are like the vast majority of patients, when your doctor prescribes a medication, you take it, simple as that. You rely on his or her medical knowledge and expertise to know what's best for you. You may not even bother to read the accompanying prescription information, trusting in your doctor and pharmacist to tell you of any serious risks involved with the drug. That is their job, after all. Right?
While you might think so, that certainly hasn't stopped the approximately 1.3 million drug injuries that occur annually in the United States. These medication errors are all cases of preventable patient harm, according to The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention. So, if they're preventable, why do so many medication errors still occur, and how can you keep from becoming a statistic?
Most common errors
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration evaluates medication error reports. In a five-year study, the FDA found the following:
- Improper dosage was the most common cause of medication error, accounting for 41 percent of fatalities.
- Administering the wrong drug accounted for 16 percent of medication errors.
- Using the wrong route to administer a medication accounted for 16 percent of errors.
- Nearly half of all fatal medication errors befell individuals over age 60.
Elderly individuals tend to run a higher risk of experiencing a drug error because they are more likely to be taking multiple prescription medications at the same time.
Preventing medication errors
While it is not your responsibility to make sure your medication is safe – that's your doctor's job! – neither do you want to suffer from a drug error. There are a few easy methods you can adopt that may help you avoid drug injuries.
- When your doctor prescribes a new medication, make sure he or she tells you the name of the drug – both generic and brand name – as well as the correct dosage and what the drug is used for; write this information down.
- Make sure before you leave your doctor's office or pharmacy that you are clear on the usage directions, proper storage and special instructions, if any.
- If you are in the hospital, ask staff both the name and the purpose of each medication they give you; if you are not in a condition to be able to do so yourself, have a friend or family member verify this information for you, when possible.
- Prevent drug dangerous interactions by informing your prescribing physician of the names of all other medications and supplements you are taking, both prescription and non-prescription, as well as any vitamins or herbal supplements.
Lastly, never be afraid to question your doctor. While it's scary to think about, physicians make mistakes too, and your own health and that of your loved ones are a top priority. Catching potential errors before they have a chance to injure you is the best medicine. If you have been the victim of a prescription medication error or a defective drug, there are various professional legal and medical avenues you can pursue to seek help.