How do I Prevent Medication Errors?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2019
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There are a number of steps which individual consumers can take to avoid medication errors. Many of these steps simply involve being more alert and involved in medical care, and consumers should never be afraid of speaking up about something which confuses or concerns them. Even if a patient feels uncomfortable questioning a care provider, many medication errors could be prevented by alert consumers, and care providers appreciate it when patients ask questions, even if no error has occurred.

Whenever a medication is prescribed, the patient should ask what the medication is called, what it is used for, the dosage, and how it should be taken. The patient should also request that the doctor fully write out the prescription, rather than using abbreviations, and that the doctor write the purpose of the prescription on the pad. This can prevent a lot of medication errors by ensuring that the pharmacist clearly understands what is being prescribed, and why.

When patients pick up prescriptions, they should check to see that the drug name is correct, and that the directions look familiar. If something doesn't look or sound right, it should be drawn to the attention of the pharmacist. Patients getting refills should also alert the pharmacist if the medication looks different; medications are often color-coded to indicate different dosages, for example, so getting pink pills when purple pills are expected could actually be a serious problem.


Patients should confirm that their doctors and pharmacists have a complete list of all of the medications they are taking, including prescriptions, over the counter drugs like aspirin, and supplements. Patients should also make sure that their medical conditions are clearly listed as well. Incomplete patient information is a common cause of medication errors, making it important for patients to confirm that their care providers have all of their information.

In the hospital, preventing medication errors can be harder, because patients may not be able to speak up for themselves, or they may feel like their care providers must know what they are doing at all times. While medical professionals in hospital environments are highly trained and very attentive, they can make mistakes, and sometimes being vocal can prevent a medication error.

Any time a medication is administered in a hospital, the patient or an advocate such as a family member should ask what the medication is called, why it is being administered, what the dosage is, and how frequently it is supposed to be administered. They should also make sure that all medications are logged in the patient's chart. Patients should also report any adverse side effects they experience immediately, as the onset of side effects could indicate that a medication error has occurred.


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