While no one can deny the fact that modern medicines have saved numerous lives, it is also true that medication errors have killed or harmed quite a few people. A medication error is a mistake made by a doctor, a nurse, a chemist, a caregiver, or a patient during the process of prescribing, administering, dispensing or using a medicine.
Research has shown that the most common causes of medication errors are: similar drug names, similar packaging and labeling and illegible prescriptions.
The crucial question is: what can you do to help prevent medication errors? The answer is simple learn to ask questions! Just because you havent been trained as a doctor doesnt minimize the important role you play in preventing errors with regard to your medicines, or those for your family! As the patient (or the caregiver), you have a great deal at stake in the success of your drug therapy and should assert your right - and your responsibility - to ask relevant questions. By the very process of asking questions about your medicines, you understand why you are taking them, how to take them, and what to expect so that you can detect potential errors.
After asking the questions, make sure you understand the answers clearly. Ensure that you can read your doctors prescription! If you cant, ask your doctor to print the name of the medicine and the directions for taking it. Fortunately, many doctors have now started using computers routinely to print out their prescriptions to ensure legibility!
Ask your doctor, chemist or nurse questions about the medications. You should completely understand your health problem and what you can expect from the medicines. You should know the following facts:
Discuss your medication with your chemist. Unfortunately, chemists still represent a very underutilized resource in India. Every chemists shop must have a duly qualified and trained pharmacist. (Pharmacists are professionals who have done a four-year course in a pharmacy college and are knowledgeable about medicines and their effects.) If you have any doubts, seek out the pharmacist in the chemists shop; the clerk or the shopkeeper may not know anything about medicines! In addition to helping you take your medicine properly, talking with the pharmacist helps in pinpointing errors that may have occurred when reading a written prescription or transcribing an over-the-phone prescription.
- How the medicines are supposed to work.
- What side-effects could occur and how long could they last.
- What to do if the medicine doesnt seem to be working.
While taking medicines, you should strictly follow the doctors instructions. A medicine may not lead to the end result that you expect if it is not taken as instructed. If you are taking a medicine for a chronic condition, it is especially important that you understand certain vital facts such as: How is the medicine to be taken? How much? How often? For how long? What side-effects could occur? What do you do if you miss a dose.
You should be able to identify your medicines properly. Many errors are made at home by taking a wrong tablet or capsule which appears similar to another family members medication. The ability to recognize your medicines can help in preventing you from taking the wrong drug.
Your doctor may decide to change your brand of medicine, and may substitute a brand name medicine for another, a brand name medicine for a generic, one generic for another, or a generic for a brand name medicine. In changing from one product to another, however, there is a chance of an error occurring. This is why you should always double check when your doctor changes your prescription. Knowing the generic names and the common brand names of your medicines can help prevent errors.
You are as important as your doctor in helping to prevent medication error and using medicines wisely. If you believe an error has occurred, contact your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse as soon as possible. Do not take the medication until all your doubts have been dispelled.
Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of a medication error:
Even though you may follow the preceding instructions carefully, accidents can still happen. One of the most serious medication errors is a drug overdose. Symptoms of an overdose include dizziness, shortness of breath, a slowdown in breathing, ringing in the ears, extreme sleepiness, nausea, clammy skin, difficulty in hearing, headache, sweating and even loss of consciousness. If you make a mistake and exceed the recommended dosage of your medication to the point of overdose, contact your doctor or hospital emergency room immediately. In case you are unable to do so, ask for help from relative or friend.
- Patronize the same chemist for prescriptions drugs as well as over-the-counter drugs. A complete record of your medications can be kept at the chemists shop, and some modern chemist have know installed computers which allow them to store the details of the medicines you are taking. This precaution is especially important if more than one physician has been prescribing medicines. A competent pharmacist can also spot hazardous combinations of medications, and help you avoid possible dangerous drug interactions.
- Your doctor should be aware of, and keep a record of, all the medicines you are taking. This record should include over-the-counter drugs (such as vitamins and aspirin) laxatives, as well as the medicines that another specialist may have prescribed. This precaution can help to avoid dangerous drug combinations in which drug can interact with each other to produce hazardous side-effects.
- Your doctor needs to know about your past reactions to certain drugs. However, tolerance levels may change with age and as some people grow order, they may show greater sensitivity to medications such as painkillers or tranquilizers.
- Always keep medications in their original containers. Many drugs look alike and this can cause an identification crisis.
- Never use another persons medication; and never experiment with medicines just because a friend recommends them. Similarly dont "play doctor" by lending your medicines to your friend or relatives!
- Throw away all medications once they have reached their expiry date.
- Try to reduce the need for potentially addictive drugs such as sleeping pills or laxatives. A glass of hot milk could help you sleep at night, while increasing the fiber intake by modifying your diet could replace the need for a laxative.
- Always check with your doctor for treatment alternatives which dont need you to consume drugs. For example, if you have hyper tension, meditation, cutting down on salt and losing weight can help lower your blood pressure, there by avoiding the need for medication.
- Dont break or chew any tablets or capsules unless you have been instructed to do so by your doctor or pharmacist. Such an action could interfere with a drugs potency because your system may absorb it too quickly, or not at all.
- Make a habit of reading the label every time you take your medication. so as to ensure that you are taking the right drug and following the instructions properly.
- Keep all medications in a locked cabinet where children cant reach them.
Always remember that you are the one taking your medicines. Therefore, make sure you are well informed about them, so that you can take them safely!