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You start feeling sick and the symptoms aren’t improving so you go to your doctor.  Your doctor hands you a prescription for an antibiotic and you promptly get it filled at your local pharmacy so you can start taking it immediately.  Do you check the label?  Do you ask your doctor or the pharmacist about the medication to learn of any side effects or dosage instructions?  If you don’t, you’re leaving yourself open to becoming a victim of a medication error.

According to NPR, some hospitals are taking extra steps to prevent medication errors.  At Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, there are 10 emergency pharmacists on call 24-hours a day.  They review each medication before it is administered to patients to make sure it is correct.  Experts say medication errors are “three times” more likely to happen with children than with adults.

A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology (NCIB) found that there was less of a margin for error when patients were given medications upon leaving the ER through the use of emergency medicine pharmacist review.

Tactics to Prevent Prescribing Errors

The FDA has received reports of 30,000 medication errors since 1992, but the agency noted that these were “voluntary reports” and actual numbers are probably higher.  More than 7,000 deaths each year are associated with medication errors.

To help reduce these errors the FDA took action in July 2002 by proposing a new rule which would require bar codes on “certain drug and biological product labels.”  The final rule went into effect in April 2004.  These bar codes were placed on wrist bands and given to patients in hospitals.  The bar code system was designed to provide a more effective way for doctors and healthcare providers to administer medications without making mistakes.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals can only do so much to prevent medication errors.  You have to be your own advocate.  According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices there are several things you can do to prevent errors, including:

• Check expiration dates of all drugs at home and throw out any medication that is old.
• Do not crush pills.  Ask for a liquid substitute if available.
• Bring a list of all drugs and herbal supplements you are currently taking when seeking medical treatment.
• Keep a list of all medicines you are allergic to and give a copy to your doctor.
• With any new medication, ask for a list of side effects and find out exactly what it will treat.
• Ask a doctor or pharmacist any questions you have about the medication before taking it.
• Only take liquid medication with the device it comes with.
• Make sure all medical professionals check your patient information before administering your medication at the hospital.
• Try to find a primary pharmacy that has current information on your medications.
• Schedule a time when you gather all of your medications and take them to your doctor or pharmacist to go over what you’re taking and any possible interactions.

If you are unable to keep track of your medications, ask a family or friend for help.  The more people you have advocating for your safety, the less chance there will be of suffering a personal injury due to a medication error.

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