Medication Errors: Protect Yourself

Did you know that elderly patients in the US are prescribed improper medications in about 1 out of every 12 physician visits?  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1995 and 2000 approximately 8 % of prescriptions written for elderly patients in the hospital outpatient and physician office settings were for improper medications – this means there was a medication error in an estimated 16.7 million physician visits! Particularly at risk are seniors who are prescribed more than one treatment in the same visit and elderly women, who are twice as likely as elderly men to be prescribed an inappropriate medication.

Some causes of medication errors – such as poor physician / pharmacist communications - are beyond the patients’ control.  There are, however, some things you can do as a  consumer to protect yourself.

For starters, you should always keep a list of the medications you are taking, and share that list with your doctor before starting a new prescription. Here are a few other steps you can take to improve your medication safety:

  • To avoid dangerous interactions, tell your doctor about everything you are taking – this includes any other over-the-counter medications, vitamin supplements, and herbal remedies,
  • Familiarize yourself with the brand and generic names of the prescription drugs you are taking,
  • Look at your medicine before you leave the drug store or as soon as you receive it in the mail. If the pill is a different color or shape than what you're used to, call your pharmacist or doctor. 
  • Some drug names are similar, so be sure to compare your doctor’s prescription to the label on the bottle given to you by the pharmacist,
  • To ensure appropriate use, ask the pharmacist to review your medication instructions and dosage.
  • Be sure to take your medications exactly as directed
  • Check your prescriptions and OTCs for interactions yourself at the Drug Digest interaction checker.

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