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What You Can Do to Avoid Medication Errors

Use these tips at the doctor's office, pharmacy, home

Have you ever been given the wrong dosage or the wrong medicine?

Medication can cause illness or injury under some conditions, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM). For example, a very strong drug may carry a greater risk of harmful side effects.

See also: AARP Health Record is a safe place to manage your family's health information.

But sometimes doctors, pharmacists or patients make errors — in prescribing a medication, in filling the prescription, or in taking the drug. These errors can be prevented. According to the IOM, approximately 1.5 million preventable adverse drug effects occur in the United States each year.

To help avoid drug errors, the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) encourages us to think about the "3 Rs" — Risks, Respect, Responsibility — for safe medicine use:

  • Recognize that all medicines have risks as well as benefits.
  • Respect the power and value of medicines when properly used.
  • Remember that medicine safety is also about personal responsibility; learn what you need to know to use your medicine safely and appropriately.

Here are additional tips for doing your part to avoid errors at the doctor’s office, the pharmacy and at home.

At the doctor's office:

  • Make a list of questions before your visit and bring it to your appointment.
  • If your doctor prescribes medicine for you, confirm the name of the drug and the dose. Be sure you understand how, when and for how long you should take it. Read your notes back to the doctor to be sure they're correct.
  • Ask the doctor or nurse to explain what the drug will do. Ask if any lab tests will be needed to check how the drug is working in your body. Ask about side effects. If prescription costs are a concern, ask about a generic or lower-cost brand name medication that works just as well. Write down the information you receive.

At the pharmacy:

  • When you take the prescription to the drugstore, bring a copy of your list of medicines and over-the-counter drugs that you take. Some pharmacies keep a list of the drugs you get from them. Ask for a copy so you can make sure the information is up-to-date.

Next: Are you keeping up with your home records? »

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