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Medication errors and how to reduce your risks

You have dealt with a medical problem for months, and finally feel as if you have found the right diagnosis and have a solid treatment plan in place. What happens when your prescriber or pharmacist gives you the wrong medication, dosage or instructions and the medication ends up doing more harm than good? These are referred to as medication errors and close to 1.3 million people in the United States alone are injured annually by these errors. One ideal way to minimize medication errors is to take an active role in all health care decisions made about your body, and stay informed about what each medication means to your condition.

What causes medication errors?

You expect your doctors, nurses and the pharmacy to communicate flawlessly because medications can often mean life or death to an individual, but that is not always the case. Medication errors are often caused by:

  • Lack of communication between a patient and a provider
  • Poor communication between health care professionals such as doctors and nurses
  • Medical abbreviation and names that sound similar

Your best tool to avoiding medication errors is to stay on top of your own care and treatment plan.

How to avoid medication errors

Open, clear communication is the best way to avoid medication errors . Any time you are asked to start a new drug or medication, ask your provider several questions:

  • What is the generic and brand name of the medication?
  • What does the medication do?
  • How long before I can expect to see results?
  • How long should I take the medication and what dose am I taking?
  • Should I avoid certain activities, drinks, foods or other medications while taking this one?
  • Are there possible side effects and how should I handle them?
  • What do I do if I forget to take a dose or accidentally take more than my prescribed dose?
  • Can this medication interfere with any other medications I am currently taking?

You can also help to reduce your risks of medication errors by being open, thorough and honest about your past medical history and any medications you are currently taking. If you have had allergies in the past, notify your physician. If you think you are pregnant or may become pregnant, always inform your doctor before starting a new medication.

When it is out of your hands

Despite your best efforts, there are times when medication errors occur because of the negligence of another. If you find yourself in this situation, you should seek the advice of an attorney quickly.

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