Preventing Pharmacological Mistakes

Sooner or later, most of us are confronted with healthcare and medical concerns that require the administration of any of a vast number of approved medications. We should also realize that medication blunders do occur occasionally and can happen when we are patients in hospitals, when prescriptions are filled at local or mail order pharmacies, and when we take medicines at home. There are some things, however, that we can do to prevent or at least minimize the occurrence of a serious problem resulting from an incorrectly prescribed or erroneously dispensed medication.

On its web page discussing medication errors, Aetna Insurance Company has listed some of the more common factors that can lead to prescription errors. These include:

  1. Drug names – The names of medications can be long and complicated and many of them sound and are spelled very similarly.
  2. Unclear or illegible handwriting on prescriptions – We have all seen prescriptions having instructions for the pharmacist that are scribbled very quickly and can be very difficult to interpret.
  3. Incorrect assessments and diagnoses from practitioners – Although these are uncommon, they do happen and can result in incorrectly prescribed drugs.
  4. Taking the wrong dosage of a correctly prescribed medication or mixing medications unwisely – There are times when we may forget if a daily dosage has been taken and decide to take another one. The inadvertent over-dose could result in adverse effects. Also, because some medications do not mix well with others and can interact in catastrophic ways, great care must be taken when taking drugs in combination.

Knowing that mistakes can be made in both the prescription and consumption of medications, there are several steps that can be followed by doctors, pharmacists, and by patients in preventing serious medical conditions that should otherwise never occur. Medical practitioners and their staff should, of course, ensure that medications are prescribed correctly and are appropriate for a given health issue. With nearly all of the pertinent data on every drug posted in easy-to-navigate online databases, this should not be a difficult task to accomplish. Pharmacists can also implement procedures to check the validity of prescriptions and to ensure that only the prescribed medications are dispensed, in the correct dosages, and are matched with the right patients.

But as patients who are sometimes diagnosed with illnesses and are subsequently prescribed medications, it is very much up to us to be as cognizant as possible about the nature of an illness, what the symptoms are, what the short and long-term effects are, what the medications are that have been prescribed, and why our physician has prescribed a particular medication for the illness. We should also learn as much as we can about these medications, check to make sure we have received exactly what was intended and in the proper dosages, that we are thoroughly familiar with the prescribed medication schedule, that our practitioner is aware of all other medicines we are taking, and that we are sensitive to the types of statistical biases that sometimes exist in the reporting of drug testing results for pharmacological studies. If we keep all of these factors in mind, we can significantly improve our chances of avoiding the possibly negative effects of inadvertent medication mistakes.