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Know Your Rights:

Preventing Medication Errors


Take an active role in the management of your medications. Experts agree that medication errors will be on the rise as the population ages and more people require medication. Statistics show that prescription volume has risen dramatically over the past ten years. This fact, coupled with the shortage of pharmacists and cost-cutting measures employed by chain drugs stores and hospitals, requires that patients take an active role in the management of their medications. The Institute of Medicine Report on Preventing Medication Errors repeatedly states that one of the most effective ways to reduce medication errors is to move toward a model of health care where there is more of a partnership between the patients and health care providers. That is, patients should understand more about their medications and take more responsibility for monitoring those medications, while doctors, physician’s assistants, pharmacists and nurses should take steps to educate, consult with, and listen to patients.

Ask questions of your physician and pharmacist. Do not leave your doctor’s office or the pharmacy confused or uncertain about your medications. Insist that your doctor clarify specific aspects of the medication regimen (drug name, purpose, dosage, strength), identify possible side effects and what actions to take should they occur, and understand possible interactions with other medications and/or foods and beverages.
Keep an up-to-date medication list that includes prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and dietary supplements. According to the Institute of Medicine Report, this is the single most important contribution patients can make to medication safety and good medication self-management. This list should include:
o The name of the drug or supplement;
o The reason for taking the product;
o The strength, dose and frequency of administration of the product;
o All known drug or food allergies
Carry this medication list with you at all times in case emergency care is needed. You should have the doctor verify the list each time you visit him or her.
Patients have a responsibility to provide information about medications they are taking to their doctors and pharmacist to help prevent adverse drug events and drug-drug interactions.
This medication list is especially important for those who have chronic conditions, see multiple doctors, or take several medications and dietary supplements.

When you go to your doctor’s office or clinic:

• Take your medication list with you and show it to your doctor.
• Have the doctor write down the name of any new drug he or she is prescribing (brand and generic, if available), what the drug is being used for, its dosage, and how often to take it, or provide other written material with this information.
• Have the doctor explain how to use the drug properly.
• Ask about the drug’s side effects and what to do if they experience a side effect.

When you pick up a prescription at the pharmacy:

First, get your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. California law requires that pharmacists keep a patient medication profile on each patient who gets a prescription filled at the pharmacy. An accurate medication profile allows the pharmacist to check for drug interactions, side effects, and other clinical information that may affect the efficacy of the drug prescribed.
Immediately after you receive a prescription from the pharmacy, look at the prescription label, open the prescription vial and look at the medicine dispensed to you. If the directions for use are different, the medicine looks different than what you have received before or you have any questions, tell/ask the pharmacist before you leave the pharmacy.
Make sure the name of the drug (brand or generic) and the directions for use received at the pharmacy are the same as what is written down for you by the doctor.
• Know that you can review your list of medications with the pharmacist for additional safety.
• Know that you have the right to counseling by the pharmacist if you have any questions. You can ask the pharmacist to explain how to take the drug properly, what side effects it has, and what to do if they experience a side effect (just as you did with the doctor).
Ask for written information about the medication.
Know how you should store the medication at home.

When you are a patient at the hospital:

Ask the doctor or nurse what drugs are being given in the hospital.
Do not take a drug without being told the purpose for doing so.
• Exercise the right to have a friend or family member present whenever you are receiving medication and are unable to monitor the medication-use process yourself.
• Prior to surgery, ask whether there are medications, especially prescription antibiotics, that you should take or any medicine you should stop taking before surgery.
• Prior to discharge, ask for a list of the medications you should be taking at home, have your doctor review them, and be sure you understand how these medications should be taken.

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Andrea Cook & Associates
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