how simple vigilance can help prevent serious medication errors

While it may seem hard to believe, thousands of people suffer serious injuries because of medication errors here in the United States every year. Accordingly, the next time you pick up your medication from the local pharmacy, you will probably want to take a few extra minutes to verify that the medication you were provided was the same one actually prescribed by your doctor. This is true even if you have been taking the same medication for years.

Don’t believe it?

Consider the following anecdotes from a Philadelphia-area newspaper illustrating just how easily medication errors can occur at the pharmacy pick-up window:

  • A mother picking up a prescription for her son’s ADHD at a local pharmacy was mistakenly given heart medication meant for another patient with the exact same name. Here, the mother was only alerted to the error after hearing the pharmacist mention “chest pains.”
  • A woman who was prescribed a painkiller for a finger injury at an area hospital filled her medication at a local pharmacy and verified that her name was on the package when she picked it up. She later took several doses of the medication, but noticed her pain was not alleviated. A closer glance at the prescription bottle revealed that she was accidentally given another person’s blood pressure medication.

Fortunately, experts indicate that that people can take a few simple steps to help ensure that they don’t fall victim to the negligence of pharmacy staff.

  • When picking up a prescription, provide your full name and at least one other unique identifier, such as an address or date of birth. This simple step can help prevent those situations in which people with the exact same names or similar-sounding names receive the wrong medications.
  • Prior to leaving the pharmacy, take the step of verifying that the information on the label (name, address, prescription, dosage, etc.) is accurate and alert pharmacy staff if anything seems incorrect.
  • Take the time to familiarize yourself with any and all medications that you or a family member take, including the medications’ names, reasons for taking them, method of administration, appearance and any other relevant information. If necessary, consult with the on-staff pharmacist who can answer your questions and verify that the medication is the one intended by your doctor.

Given the number of people on a pharmacy staff and the verification procedures in place, prescription errors should never happen. When they do and a patient suffers unnecessarily, someone must be held accountable.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, “How to prevent yourself from getting the wrong prescription,” Michael Cohen, May 16, 2013

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