Medication Errors at Home  — February 2017

Medication Errors at Home — February 2017


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How to Reduce Risk and Prevent Mistakes

Prescription and over-the-counter medications provide major health improvements for people, but they also pose potential risks. Adverse drug events — harm as a result of exposure to a medication — are associated with hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits and hospitalizations each year.

Home medication errors happen all too often. In a study at the New York University School of Medicine-Bellevue Hospital, it was found that one out of five parents who measured liquid medication for their children gave them twice the directed dose. Also, nearly all the parents measured the dose incorrectly to some degree.

Confusing ear drops and eye drops, chewing non-chewable pills, and splitting pills not designed to be split are other types of errors that happen at home.

Risk Factors for Errors

Medication errors can happen for many reasons, including:

  • Taking numerous medications. With many medications, it is easy to confuse them since similarly named medications often look alike. The possibility of drug interactions is greater, and it’s harder to determine which ones are causing undesirable side effects. The more medications, the more likely the schedule for taking them is complicated, for example, some need to be taken on an empty stomach or at multiple times during the day.
  • Seeing multiple healthcare providers. Multiple providers prescribing medications can result in a lack of coordination. Having a primary care provider is important because their role includes overseeing medications and coordinating care.
  • Filling prescriptions at multiple pharmacies. That means that no one pharmacist has a full list of your medications. Pharmacists are trained to notice potential duplications and drug interactions. It helps to use just one pharmacy that you trust.
  • Having to measure medication doses or make other calculations. It’s important not to use a spoon from your drawer. Instead, use an oral syringe or the dose cup that comes with the medication.
  • Being elderly. Older adults tend to take more medications and often have challenges taking them properly. Their caregivers can help set up a system, for example, using pill dispensers divided by day and time of day.
  • Confusing/unclear medication labeling and instructions.

Medication errors are preventable events that can cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm.

How to Avoid Errors

The first step towards reducing the risk of medication errors is to become actively involved in your healthcare. It is important to develop a relationship with a primary care provider so you can exchange information and develop a plan of care that makes sense to both of you. When both parties are equally engaged, better satisfaction with care is almost always the end result.

Since medical information can be complicated, it helps to keep a medical notebook. Keep notes about your visits, including asking your provider to spell (or even write) the names of conditions, treatments, medications, or other information you may want to refer to later.

Here are some tips for developing a healthy provider-patient relationship and avoiding errors at home:

  • Ask questions so that you understand your conditions as best as possible. Share your concerns and personal preferences. Ask about risks, benefits, side effects, alternatives and wait-and-see approaches.
  • Make sure you understand why you take each of your medications, and when/how often you should take them. Know their generic/brand names and for what conditions you take them. Keep a list of this information in your medical notebook AND wallet (or other handy location) so the information is available in an emergency. Also tell your provider about any vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter products you take and list them with your medications.
  • When medications are added or changed, make sure you understand why. Update your medical notebook and portable handy list! Make notes of any changes, good or bad. Review your list of medications, dose and schedule with your provider at regular intervals. Know what to do if you miss a dose and if you accidentally take too much. Be aware of any food, drinks or other medications that you need to avoid.
  • When you pick up a medicine at the pharmacy, verify that it is the one prescribed.
  • Use a pill box to dispense medicines. Pick the same day every week to fill the boxes, and do it when you can concentrate. Each time you take medications, think about what medication it is and if it is correct.
  • Never give your medications to other people and don’t take other people’s medications.

It’s OK to Talk Money With Your Provider

If you have a health savings account for deductibles and co-pays, it’s a good idea to mention it to your provider. ”If your doctor knows that some of the expense is coming out of a health account, he or she behaves differently,” said Dr. Hank Gardner, CEO of HCMS Group. ”It happens because there’s more of a dialogue between the patient and the doctor about – not just what’s needed – but what’s important and how it’s going to get paid for.”

Discussing money with your provider is part of being actively involved in your healthcare. Ask how much medications, tests and procedures cost. Your provider may be able to help you avoid unnecessary expenses, for example by prescribing equally effective (but less expensive) medications. By talking money, you may be able to get more out of your healthcare buck.

The KnovaSolutions pharmacy service provides a medication review summary for members who take more than 4 medications. The member portal is also available and lets you electronically update your medication list and print it as needed. Members find both of these helpful when reviewing medicines with their provider, and in some cases, are able to reduce the number of medications they take. Your KnovaSolutions nurse is available to discuss your medications and ways to avoid errors at home. Call your KnovaSolutions nurse at 800/355-0885, M-F, 8 am-5 pm.

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We encourage you to leave a comment or question below and a KnovaSolutions nurse or pharmacist will reply.

The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider.  If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.


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