5 Must-Do Rules for Preventing Medication Mistakes

How to protect yourself in advance from drug interactions

If 1.5 million serious medication mistakes happen every year, and 100,000 people die from them, how do you make sure you and your loved ones aren't among the casualties? Take these five steps to make sure medication mistakes don't happen to you.

1. Be prepared.

Make a list of prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs, and any supplements such as vitamins, minerals, or herbs that you and your family members are taking. Keep a copy in your wallet, and update it regularly.

2. Have regular medication reviews.

At least once a year, have your general practitioner or primary doctor review your list of medications to make sure there are no dangerous combinations, incorrect dosages, or medications inappropriate for your age and circumstances. Remember, as time goes by, your body changes, and a medication that was perfectly fine five years ago may not be healthy -- or even necessary -- today.

Another possibility, suggests Anne Meneghetti, M.D., director of Clinical Communication for Epocrates, a medication management system for doctors, is what she calls "brown-bagging it." Load everything you or your family member is taking -- including medications, vitamins and minerals, and herbal supplements -- into a bag and bring it to the doctor's office. With the actual vials and labels in front of her, the doctor will have better information.

More Medication Rules

3.Take advantage of pharmacy consults.

At the pharmacy, ask for (or accept, if it's offered automatically) a consultation with the pharmacist. Sometimes pharmacists are easier to talk to than doctors, and they can explain whether the drug should be taken alone or with meals and what side effects you need to be alert for. Pharmacists are also highly knowledgeable about medication interactions, so if you have a chance, ask the pharmacist to review your list of medications as a safety check.

4. In the hospital, be proactive both prior to and after surgery.

Prior to surgery, ask if there's anything you need to stop taking, and how soon before surgery you should stop. Afterward, when doctors and nurses come around to administer medication, ask them (assuming you're conscious) to explain what drugs you're being given and what effect they're meant to have. If you're not going to be conscious for a length of time and you have someone accompanying you, ask him or her to do this for you.

5. Go home prepared to follow up.

During the hospital discharge process, ask to be sent home with a list of all the medications you were given during your stay, plus those that you'll be taking home with you. Have your regular doctor or nurse go over them with you to make sure you understand how they should be taken.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

about 2 years ago, said...

Another point: take the time to read the informational sheets that come with your prescriptions. They are a wealth of information on uses interactions with other medications, instructions for how they should be taken, etc.

about 5 years ago, said...

The annual review of meds. Our bodies chance, our needed dosages change, new drugs may be added, old ones deleted. At 77, I ask each doctor is each of their prescriptions still needed, and in the same dosages.? And I ask, what reactions should I expect if I delete their prescriptions. My Gastroenterologist indicated one drug I could experiment reducing quantity, and if nothing adverse happens, trying to reduce a second one . I want to have each specialty "justify" my consumption of each drug at this stage of life.

about 5 years ago, said...

Also use a pill organizers.

about 5 years ago, said...

and use www.MyMedSchedule.com to make a list and get reminders. it is free too.

about 6 years ago, said...

I would add do your own homework. Do your research on the internet. There is NO way a doctor, or even a pharmacist can stay on top of all the supplements and their possible interactions. Just googling a new medicine will give you access to side effects, possible interactions. I do not know how many times I have read about a new supplement (the latest "wonder" drug) only to find out it would cancel out one of my prescribed medications.

over 6 years ago, said...

I have seen mistakes be made on lists of "discharge medications." patient or patient's advocate should check the list to make sure it is correct before checking out of hospital. Also, I check the drugs.com website to make sure prescriptions are what the label says they are.

almost 7 years ago, said...


about 7 years ago, said...

My mom has dimentia and is a nursing facility. The doctors have put her on a medication for anxiety but it seems to me that mom becomes very combative after she has taken this medication. My father did the same thing when he was in this condition. The medication is Haladahl. (I think that I spelled that right) Has anyone else had this problem?

about 7 years ago, said...

I read this article as well as "Medication Mistakes that can Kill". In both, each time a doctor was referenced, they were refered to as "she" or "her". Now, when I was growing up the feminists WERE ACTIVELY all over this kind of thing, because they said it was demeaning to presume all physicians were "him" or "he". We learned that professional literature is either gender-neutral ("they," "the doctor," etc.) or all-inclusive ("he or she," "him or her"). I guess since men are less likely to cause an emotional stink over semantics, whoever wrote this article thinks they are repairing wrongs (from over 40 years ago before men liberated women from ourselves) by always referring to traditionally male roles in the feminine. More likely, the author or editor is probably a woman with a lady doctor. Either way, my criticism is not because I'm offended, as a man, that this article makes women seem to be the dominant sex in medicine (in actuality since all these errors are physician-driven or influenced, it makes the women doctors seem dangerous); my criticism is that I don't find this article to be meaningful since it doesn't even follow professional writing guidelines which have been in place for over 12 years.

over 7 years ago, said...

1. rt. patient 2. rt. drug 3. rt. dose 4. rt. route 5. rt. time. these are the 5 rights for nursing med. pass & will prevent many med. errors. vjnurse@yahoo.com

about 8 years ago, said...

Also, use ONE pharmacy. Then the pharmacist can see drug interactions of ALL your meds. Get to know your pharmacist/s. Tell them which over-the-counter meds, vitamins, herbs and supplements you are taking, so they can spot interactions among all the 'chemicals' going into your body. Most pharmacies have computer programs designed to flag interactions. Because pharmacists study and work constantly with medicine, they are usually the most knowledgeable about medications of all the healthcare team. If you are having medication side effects, sometimes they are the most helpful in dealing with them (in conjunction with your doctor, of course).