Prescription Errors: How to Protect Yourself

If you’re like most American adults, you take one or more prescription drugs. A Johns Hopkins Medicine study has found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and mistakes in prescribing medicine are a significant portion of that. Over 1.5 million Americans harmed by medication errors each year! Prescription errors account for thousands of deaths, and the chance your prescription could be errant in some way is as high as 1 in 20. When your health and well-being is on the line, a 5% chance of an adverse reaction is not a safe bet!

Although the rate at which Americans consume prescription medication grows every year like clockwork, the number of pharmacists has not. This means that pharmacies are usually overworked and understaffed, and typically employ an under-educated support staff. Becoming a pharmacist requires many years of post-secondary education, but becoming a pharmacy technician only requires a GED and a few training courses. The wrong medication can be life-threatening, as can the wrong dosage of the right medication!

To minimize the risk of a prescription error affecting you or someone you love, here is what you should do:

  1. Preventing prescription errors begins before you even head to the pharmacy. When you are with the doctor (or Nurse Practitioner) who prescribes your medication, ask them to explain what they are prescribing. Know what you are being prescribed and why!
  2. When you get your prescription filled, check inside the bag. Trying to move too quickly is what causes pharmacies to make the overwhelming majority of prescription errors, so don’t be in a hurry yourself. Be certain the label on the bottle matches what your doctor prescribed.
  3. You should be given the option to receive counseling on the medication from the pharmacist. Say “yes!” If you have any question at all as to what you are receiving, you should absolutely ask for the pharmacist’s time. Having already heard from your prescribing physician what the purpose of the medication you are being given is, this gives the pharmacist the chance to confirm that what you are given is that drug, for that purpose. If a mistake has been made along the way, it will become very clear at this point!
  4. Once you are home, check the pills. If this is a prescription with which you are familiar and the medication is a different color, shape, or has a different inscription, call the pharmacy to investigate immediately! This is incredibly important when refilling prescriptions.

Following these steps can help you avoid being a victim of prescription error. Prescription errors are usually the result of pharmacies cutting corners, and trying to work too quickly. Pharmacies need to know when they made mistakes so that they can fix the problem, and they need to be held accountable for the mistakes they make.