A majority of American adults are on at least one medication, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one-third of adults take five or more medications.
It's therefore unsurprising that medication errors are common. So common, in fact, that the CDC estimates medication errors are responsible for 700,000 emergency department visits every year. The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention defines a medication error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient or consumer.”
Common medication errors include:
- Taking over-the-counter medicine with the same ingredients as a prescription medication, potentially exceeding recommended dose of a particular ingredient, such as acetaminophen.
- Taking more than one prescription medication or over-the-counter medication that have different names but contain the same ingredients.
- Chewing non-chewable medication or cutting up pills that should be consumed whole.
- Missing a dose or doubling a dose.
- Measuring dosage with the wrong spoon. For example, using a tablespoon to measure liquid medications rather than a teaspoon.
- Mistaking eye drops for ear drops and vice versa.
- Taking a medication with ingredients you are allergic to.
Tips to avoid common medication mistakes
Many medication errors occur as a result of poor communication between patients and their healthcare providers. Additionally, many medications have similar names or abbreviations and may even appear similar to another medication. Keep yourself safe from a medication error with these tips:
Review medications with your doctor. Be sure your healthcare provider and/or pharmacist is aware of all medications you currently take, including over-the-counter medications. Some providers actually recommend that patients bring in all of their actual medications rather than just a list. That way there's no doubt about which medications the patient takes.
Share your complete health history. If you are allergic to any medications or have experienced problems in the past from other medications, your healthcare provider needs to know. Additionally, let your doctor know of any chronic or serious healthcare problems or if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Ask questions. If you’re taking a new medication, be sure to ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist how to take the medication and if there are potential side effects.
Keep medications up-to-date. Maintain a current list of all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and supplements.
Use a pillbox. Medication organizers like a pillbox or pill dispenser can help you manage dosages and prevent accidentally doubling up on a medication.
Keep original containers. Always store medications in their original containers and save information sheets that come with your medications.
Use the same pharmacy. Your pharmacy will keep a record of all of your medications, helping to prevent a potentially dangerous drug interaction.
Never take someone else’s prescription medications. Never give your prescription medications to another person or take someone else’s medicines.
Report any problems to MedWatch. The FDA reviews medication error reports through MedWatch, the agency’s safety information and adverse event reporting program. Reporting is easy and can save others from harm.
Any time you change healthcare providers or start a new medication, reconcile all your medications with your doctor. This process compares new medications to past and existing medications to avoid common medication errors such as duplications, dosing errors or drug interactions.
Never hesitate to ask questions or tell your healthcare provider if you think you might be experiencing a problem with your medications. If you have any questions about the medications you take, contact your primary care provider.