Medication Safety Tips

Many errors related to medications are preventable. The Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers these ways in which patients and consumers can help to prevent errors:

  • Learn the names of all the medications you are taking and why they were prescribed.
  • Make sure to follow your health care provider's directions and take the medicine exactly as prescribed.
  • Be sure that your health care provider is aware of all the medications which you are taking. Don't forget to include over the counter medications and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs.
  • Be sure to inform health care providers about allergies or reactions to any medications or foods you have experienced.
  • Carry a record of all your current medications and supplements including dosages and times to be taken. A copy of Patient Medication Card is provided for you by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors.
  • Never share your prescription medications or take medications prescribed for someone else.
  • Be sure to check expiration dates on all medications, and supplements, and discard those that have expired.
  • Use child-proof caps when needed and remember to keep all medications out of the reach of children.
  • Take all of your medications and supplements with you to your annual exam. It’s a great opportunity for your health care provider to update your record as well as evaluate for possible drug interactions.

If your health care provider prescribes a new medication there are several things to think of:

  • Make sure you tell your provider about any allergies to medication you may have, including the type of reaction that occurred.
  • Be sure you can read the prescription. If you can’t read it, the pharmacist might not be able to either.
  • Learn the brand name as well as the generic name of the drug.
  • Ask your provider to write down the purpose of the medication.
  • Ask for written information about the new medication.
  • Ask how much the medication costs and whether your medical plan will pay for it.
  • Discuss potential side effects and what to do if they occur.
  • Does the new medication replace a medication you are currently taking?
  • When should it be taken and for how long?
  • How long does it take for it to work?
  • What is the best time to take it?
  • Should you avoid certain foods, activities, alcohol or the sun while taking this medication?
  • What happens if you miss a dose?
  • How do you store it? In the refrigerator or at room temperature?
  • If the medication is a liquid how do you measure it?
  • When you receive a new prescription in the mail or at the pharmacy, check both the label and the medication itself. If it doesn't sound or look familiar, don’t take it until you speak with your health care provider or pharmacist.
  • Seek immediate medical help if you experience itching, swelling or difficulty breathing after taking a new medication.
  • When your health care provider orders a new medication or discontinues an old one, don’t forget to update your personal medication record.

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