Medication errors are unfortunately common in the practice of health care. Hospital medication errors are especially scary. How would you even know if a nurse is giving you the wrong drug or the wrong dosage?
But experts say that you can help prevent such mistakes. Here are some tips.
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Bring in your medications. Your health care team at the hospital needs to know about every drug you take, whether it's prescription, over-the-counter, or an herbal supplement. One easy way to do this is to bring in all of your medications in a bag to show them.
Keep a written or electronic copy. You can keep digital images of your medications on your smart phone or input your medication into a secure mobile application. A written list with the names and dosing of your medication is also useful.
Find out if you should continue taking your regular medicines when in the hospital. If you're currently taking a daily medicine -- for high blood pressure or heart disease, for instance -- find out whether you should continue taking it when you're in the hospital. Don't assume that the hospital doctors and nurses will already know the drugs prescribed by your family doctor. You need to tell them explicitly; especially confirm with them the dosage of the medication you take.
Always ask. When a nurse comes in to give you a drug, ask questions. What does this drug do? How much do you need? How often do you need it? Asking questions is a key way of lowering the risk of errors.
Make sure the medicine is for you. Another way to avoid a serious hospital medication error is to ask your nurse to compare your ID with the name on the prescription before you get it.
Keep notes. Before surgery, start up a list of the drugs you'll probably be taking, along with doses and details about why you take the medicine (indication). Bring it with you to the hospital and keep it up to date. This way, you're more likely to notice any changes to your regimen.
Ask your family to help out. Since you might be drowsy and forgetful after surgery, it's great to have a family member or friend who's keeping track of your medication for you.
SOURCES: Peter B. Angood, MD, vice president, chief patient safety officer, The Joint Commission, Oakbridge Terrace, Ill.; co-director, International Center for Patient Safety. Dale Bratzler, DO, MPH, medical director, Hospital Interventions Quality Improvement Organization Support Center (QIOSC), Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality, Oklahoma City. Carolyn Clancy, MD, director, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, Md. Fran Griffin, RRT, MPA, former practicedirector, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Cambridge, Mass. Joint Commission web site: "Things You Can Do to Prevent Medication Mistakes."