Updated September 2015
What You Need to Know About Insulin
Nursing; Pharmacy

Controlling blood sugars with insulin is essential in the management of high blood sugars, not only for people who have diabetes, but for non-diabetic people as well. For example, some patients will need insulin to lower their blood sugars when they are in the hospital. However, studies have shown that the use of insulin has been associated with more medication errors than any other type or class of drug. A review of medication error events in Pennsylvania shows that the most common types of problems include receiving the wrong type of insulin and receiving the wrong dose of insulin. This includes receiving too much insulin, too little, or no insulin at all. In fact, more than 52% of the reported events led to situations in which a patient may have or actually did receive the wrong dose or no dose of insulin. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from receiving the wrong type of insulin or wrong dose of insulin when you are at home or in the hospital.

At Home:
  • If you were prescribed insulin for the first time, you need to know your insulin name because there are many different types of insulin. You also need to know the dose of the insulin and how often you have to take it.
  • Make sure that you are taught how to store your insulin, how to inject yourself and how to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar and how to manage these symptoms.
  • If your insulin type and/or dose of insulin has changed be sure to confirm the changes with your doctor (or nurse, or pharmacist) before you begin administering the new dose or new insulin type.
  • If you use an insulin pen, always change the needle after each injection. Do not share the pen with friends, family or anybody else.
  • Keep a list of all other medications you are taking, including the insulin, for your own record. Other medications include all prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) and herbal medications.
While in the Hospital:
  • It is important that you tell your doctor and your nurse what type and what dose of insulin you are taking when you are admitted to the hospital. Your usual insulin requirement may change during your hospital stay. So if you have been prescribed a different insulin or your usual dose has changed, ask your doctor about the reason for the change.
  • Make sure your healthcare provider (doctor, nurse) checks your wristband and asks your name before giving you insulin. Also, make sure the healthcare worker has washed their hands and asks about the medications you are receiving.
  • If you use an insulin pen, ask to see the pen and verify that it is labeled with your name.
  • Also, if you use an insulin pen, ask if the needle was changed and if it is only being used for you.
  • Tell your caregiver if you don’t feel well after taking a medicine like insulin. Ask for help immediately if you think you are having a side effect or reaction.

For more information about insulin and studies available, go to the 2010 March Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory article, “Medication Errors with Dosing of Insulin: Problems Across the Continuum." For more information about insulin pens, go to the September 2015 Advisory article "The Current State of 'Wrong Patient' Insulin Pen Injections." Both Advisories can be found on the Authority's website at www.patientsafetyauthority.org.

©2018 Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority