Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Drug Error
Last updated: April 2021
Drug errors can happen in pharmacies and hospitals. People with heart failure are at a particularly high risk of drug errors because of the number of medications they are prescribed. While it is not always possible to prevent errors, there are instances where you may be able to recognize the error and alert the healthcare professional before it causes harm.
Medication errors include any error that occurs when processing a medication, from prescribing to the administration of the drug. Medication errors may not necessarily cause harm, but have the potential to do so. About 1 in 100, or 1%, of medication errors, actually cause an adverse drug event.1 An adverse drug event is an injury that occurs, such as mental or physical harm.2
Examples of medication errors
As a community pharmacist, I have witnessed numerous instances where a doctor accidentally prescribes an incorrect dose of a medication. For example, your normal dose of rosuvastatin is 10 mg, but you were prescribed 20 mg. However, you were not expecting a dose change.
Most pharmacists would ask you if you were aware of the dose change before filling the prescription, but this may slip through the cracks. It is important to look at the prescription and take note of any unintended dose changes on your routine medications.
Check the label
Pharmacists make errors as well. We occasionally dispense the wrong drug to a patient. For example, I have seen a few cases where someone else’s drug was put into another client’s prescription bag. The person unknowingly takes the medication, not realizing that it is not theirs. This is why it is extremely important to always check the label of your medication vials to ensure that it is indeed yours.
Tips to prevent medication errors
There are several interventions that can be incorporated to prevent yourself from being a victim of a drug error.
Be vigilant of certain drugs
Certain drugs cause more medication errors than others. These include pain medications, antibiotics, sedatives, blood thinners, blood-sugar lowering agents, and antipsychotics. For example, if you are sick and need an antibiotic, always remind your doctor of your allergies, such as penicillin. Do not assume that your doctor has read your chart and made note of your allergy.
Ask about drug-drug interactions
Some drug interactions are deadly. Any time you start a new medication, your pharmacist should inform you if any drug interactions are present between your medications. It doesn’t hurt to ask yourself, to ensure the check has been conducted.
It is also a good idea to ask if there are interactions with over-the-counter products because your pharmacist would not necessarily know what non-prescription medications you take.
Keep a list of your medications
It's important to keep a list of your medications with you at all times. This is crucial in the event you have to go to the hospital. Include the dose, and what you take the medication for. If you don’t know what the drug is for, ask your pharmacist for a medication review so they can go over your medications with you and answer any questions you may have.
Know your kidney and liver status
The dose of some medications is dependent on how well your kidney and/or liver work. For example, some people with kidney disease cannot take some anti-inflammatories, as it can cause further kidney damage. Let your pharmacist know so that they can make sure the appropriate dose is prescribed.
Alert pregnancy status
If you are of child-bearing age, don’t assume your doctor or pharmacist will ask if you are pregnant. There are drugs that have the potential to cause severe harm to the fetus, so it is important to always let a healthcare professional know that you are pregnant when you start a new drug.
Have you been a victim of a drug error? If so, what happened and how did you realize that there was an error?
Have you experienced shortness of breath in the last week?