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Medication Errors

Medicine – almost all of us have used it for various reasons throughout our lives.  It helps remedy pain, inflammation and illness.  It can be used short term, as needed, for headaches or infections.  It can also be used long term to treat serious medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer.  Many of us have experienced relief and positive results from taking medication but sometimes medication can have a negative result when medication errors occur.

A medication error is "any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer," according to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention.  Medication errors reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may stem from:

  •  poor communication
  •  misinterpreted handwriting
  •  drug name confusion
  •  confusing drug labels, labeling, and packaging
  •  lack of employee knowledge
  •  lack of patient understanding about a drug's directions. 

"But it's important to recognize that such errors are due to multiple factors in a complex medical system and in most cases, medication errors can't be blamed on a single person." says Paul Seligman, M.D., director of the FDA's Office of Pharmacoepidemiology and Statistical Science. 

The public took notice in 1999 when the Institute of Medicine released a report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System."  According to the report more than 7,000 deaths each year are related to medications.  In response to the report, all parts of the U.S. health system put error reduction strategies into high gear by re-evaluating and strengthening checks and balances to prevent errors.  (Food and Drug Administration)

Here's a look at key areas in which the FDA is working to reduce medication errors:

Bar code label rule: When patients enter the hospital, they get a bar-coded identification wristband that can transmit information to the hospital's computer and medications can be dispensed only when there is a match in records.

Drug name confusion: To minimize confusion between drug names that look or sound alike, the FDA reviews about 300 drug names a year before they are marketed.  For instance, Lamictal which is used for treating epilepsy sounds very similar to Lamisil which is used for treating nail infections.

Drug labeling: In May 2002, an FDA regulation went into that requires a standardized "Drug Facts" label on more than 100,000 over-the-counter (OTC) drug products.  Modeled after the Nutrition Facts label on foods, the label helps consumers compare and select OTC medicines and follow instructions.  The label clearly lists active ingredients, uses, warnings, dosage, directions, other information, such as how to store the medicine, and inactive ingredients.

Error tracking and public education: The FDA reviews medication error reports that come from drug manufacturers and through MedWatch, the agency's safety information and adverse event reporting program. The agency also receives reports from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) and the U.S. Pharmacopeia, or USP.

Medication errors occur in hospitals and medical facilities but errors can also occur at the doctor’s office, pharmacy and at home.  Mistakes made in prescribing, dispensing and administering medications injure more than 1 million people a year in the United States.  (Mayo Clinic)  Yet most medication errors can be prevented.  How can you protect yourself and your family?

Get into the habit of playing it safe with these medication tips from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Keep an up-to-date list of all your medications, including nonprescription and herbal products.
  • Store medications in their original labeled containers.
  • Save the information sheets that come with your medications.
  • Use the same pharmacy, if possible, for all of your prescriptions.
  • When you pick up a prescription, check that it's the one your doctor ordered.
  • Don't give your prescription medication to someone else and don't take someone else's.

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of being harmed by medication errors is to take an active role in your health care.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends asking your doctor or pharmacist questions like why you are taking the medication, what are the possible side effects, when to stop taking the medication and possible adverse drug interactions.  Never hesitate to ask questions or share concerns with your doctor, pharmacist and other health care providers.  Almost half of the fatal medication errors occurred in people over 60.  (FDA)  According to Chris Bovetas, M.D., Internal Medicine, older people are especially at risk for errors because they often take multiple medications, take medication at the wrong times or the wrong doses due to forgetfulness or inability to follow directions.  Dr. Bovetas recommends 7 day pill boxes for medications, a supportive home environment and involvement by family members.  It is helpful if family members or caregivers can accompany seniors to the doctor visits to be sure the information is conveyed correctly to help ensure proper use.

If you or a loved one needs help with medication reminders, transportation to the doctor’s office or pharmacy, contact Synergy HomeCare of North Orange County.  We provide a wide range of non-medical care including companionship, transportation, housekeeping, and personal care services that are tailored to meet your specific needs.  We service most of North OrangeCounty including Tustin Ranch, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Yorba Linda, Orange, Silverado, Anaheim Hills, Brea and more.

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