Prevent Medical Errors
Prevent Errors with Medicines
How to use medicines can be confusing, especially if you are using a lot of medicines. You need to keep track of when and how to take them, and prescriptions and labels are not always easy to understand. So it's easy for an error with medicine to happen.
What to tell your doctor
- Tell your doctor and other health professionals about all the medicines you are taking. This includes prescription and Reference over-the-counter Opens New Window medicines as well as supplements such as vitamins and herbs. You can give your doctor a master list of medicines (What is a Reference PDF Opens New Window document?). Or you can put all your medicines, supplements, and vitamins in a bag and take them with you when you see your doctor.
- Tell your doctor about any drug allergies or other reactions to medicine you have. If you have an Reference adverse reaction to some medicines, your doctor can help you find another one or change the dose. This can help you avoid getting a medicine that might harm you.
- Stay in touch with your doctor if you are taking pain medicine. Your doctor needs to know how well your pain medicine is working. If your pain medicine is not working, don't take it more often or in a larger dose. Talk to your doctor first.
- Tell your doctor about side effects that are severe or unexpected. Don't just try to live with the side effects. Your doctor may be able to change the medicine or change how much you take to help with side effects.
What to ask your doctor or pharmacist
- What do you mean? If you don't know why you're taking a medicine or how to take it, ask. Not knowing how to follow instructions can cause errors with medicine.
- How do I take this? Make sure you know how your doctor wants you to take your medicine. Write down how much medicine you need to take, and how many times a day you take it.
- How long do I take this? Find out if you need to finish the bottle of medicine or if you can stop taking the medicine when you feel better. Ask if you need to get a refill or if you can stop treatment when the bottle is empty.
- Is it safe to take this medicine with other medicines? Taking certain medicines together may cause a bad reaction. This is called an interaction. To make sure that you don't have a bad reaction from your medicines, tell your doctor or pharmacist what other medicines or supplements you are taking. And make a list of any medicines that you shouldn't take.
- Is there anything I shouldn't do? Make sure you know about any foods, drinks, or activities you should avoid while you take the medicine. Find out what medicines may not be safe to give your child.
- What do I do if I miss a dose? With some medicines, you wait until the next time you take it. With others, you need to make up the dose. The information sheet that comes with your medicine may tell you what to do if you miss a dose.
- What are the side effects? Know what side effects you can expect and what to do if they occur.
What to ask your pharmacist
- What does this prescription say? If you can't read your doctor's handwriting on a prescription, ask what it says. If your pharmacist can't read it, have him or her call your doctor. Don't guess.
- Is this what my doctor prescribed? When you get your medicine, check to make sure it's the right medicine. Read the label to make sure you have the correct medicine, at the correct dose. If you are refilling a prescription and the size, shape, or color of the pills look different than before, ask the pharmacist about it.
- How do I measure the medicine if it's a liquid? Liquids can be hard to measure. The teaspoon you use for cooking, for example, may hold a different amount from what the doctor means. It may also be hard to know which line to fill a syringe or dropper to.
- What does the label say? Medicine labels can be confusing. For example, ask if "take 1 time a day in the morning" means you can take it any time in the morning or early in the morning. If you have any questions about what a label says, ask about it. Do this for both prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
Keeping track of your medicines
- Plan a daily schedule of medicines. Use this form (What is a Reference PDF Opens New Window document?). Put your schedule somewhere where you will always see it and where it's easy to find.
- Keep your pills in a pillbox. Get a pillbox that holds a week's worth of pills.
- Set reminders. Use your cell phone, a watch you can program, a scheduling program on the computer, or other types of timers to remind you when it's time to take your medicines.
- Sign up for safety alert emails about the medicines you take. Go to www.consumermedsafety.org.
For more information, see the topic Reference Taking Medicines as Prescribed.