October 2007
How You Can Help Prevent Medication Errors
Nursing; Pharmacy

Medication errors are one of the most common types of medical mistakes. Fortunately, in most cases, patients are not harmed by medication errors. In a recent Penn State survey, one-third of Pennsylvanians said they or a family member were personally involved in a situation where a preventable medication error occurred. However there are steps you can take to protect yourself from a medication error. The following tips are recommended by the Institute of Safety Medication Practices (ISMP), a partner with the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.

While You Are in the Hospital:
  • Always keep an up-to-date drug list. This list should include any drugs including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal products. The list should also include any medicines that you are allergic to and describe what happens to you when you take that medicine.
  • Do not let anyone give you medicines without checking your patient identification or barcode bracelet first.
  • If a medication doesn't look like what you usually take, ask why before you take it.  
  • Make sure you know the name of any new medicine that is ordered for you and what it’s being used for.
  • When a new medicine is ordered for you, remind your doctor and nurse if you have any allergies to drugs.
  • Make sure that when you are ready to leave the hospital that a doctor, pharmacist, or nurse goes over each medication with you and/or a family member. When you get home remember to update and make any changes in your medication list.
While You Are at the Doctor’s Office:
  • If you have any allergies, remind your doctor about them before taking samples. Ask him/her to check the sample medicine against your medicines to make sure there are no bad interactions with that medicine.
  • Ask the doctor to explain how to take new medicine, including mixing instructions, what side effects to look for, anything special to look for, and the reason for the medication.
  • Doctors can help you learn about your medicines by offering you education tools to provide information like the name of the drug, why it’s prescribed and the most common side effects you might experience.
In Your Home:
  • If you have trouble swallowing medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist if the drug comes in a liquid. Never chew, crush, break or mix the tablet or capsule in fluid unless your doctor or pharmacist says it is okay to do so.
  • Check all your medicines every six months for their expiration date and get rid of all drugs that are out of date.
  • As a safety measure, ask to schedule a “brown bag check-up” by gathering all of your medications and over-the-counter products into a brown bag and show them to your doctor or pharmacist to look for any potential problems.
In the Pharmacy:
  • When your doctor gives you a prescription for a new medicine, ask him/her to write the reason why you are taking the medicine on the prescription. It will help the pharmacist give you the right medicine.
  • When you take or give liquid medicines, only use the measuring device, such as a dropper, that comes with the medicine. If the pharmacy did not give you a measuring device, ask for one.
  • If you use more than one pharmacy to get your prescriptions, try to pick a primary pharmacy.
  • Your primary pharmacy should keep an up-to-date medication record for you which should include a complete list of all the medicines, over-the-counter medicines, herbals, your current and past medications.

For more tips on how to prevent medication errors, go to www.ismp.org, click on “Tips for Consumers.” For more information on medication errors in Pennsylvania, go to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority’s website at www.patientsafetyauthority.org, go to "Browse by Topic," then click "Events," then click on "Medication Errors" or click here.

©2018 Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority