To Err is Human… But What if It’s Medication?

Another informative post from Deborah, our Special Needs Coordinator and LPN.  Even medical professionals make mistakes sometimes, so use these tips to help ensure you are taking the right medication.


Mistakes are a part of life but, when it comes to medical care, they can be a matter of life and death.  One of the most common types of medical care errors involves medication.  It is estimated that medication errors injure one million Americans every year.  Fortunately, there are ways you can decrease the odds of this happening to you.
When you pick up your medication from the pharmacy, double-check the label for these things:

  • Medication name–There are many names that sound or look similar. For example:  Clonidine (for high blood pressure) can be mistaken for Klonopin (an antiseizure med). Check the spelling.
  • Appearance–If you’ve been taking a thin white pill but your refill is fat and pink, check with the pharmacist.
  • Correct dosage–1 tsp can easily look like 1 tblsp when the doctor writes it…Make sure the label the pharmacist types up matches what your physician discussed with you.
  • Directions–2 tablets once/day isn’t the same as 1 tablet twice/day. Make sure the label matches exactly what your physician had in mind.
  • Expiration dates–Expiration dates may not be on the label if the amount dispensed is likely to be taken within a month’s time. However, with samples, this can be very important.  Doctors sometimes receive large amounts of samples from drug companies but don’t give them out often.  This means what you have been given may have been sitting in his office for a while, so always check the expiration date.  Sometimes expired medicine’s active ingredient isn’t effective any more.  Or, worse, an expired medication may be dangerous.

You should also know your lingo! A print out of medication information should come with your medication (you know, all that paper you haven’t been reading). It will include these important terms:

  • Side effects (also known as adverse effects)–these are things that may or may not happen to you, but have happened to other people.
  • Contraindications–these are reasons you should not take the medication.  For example, certain medical diagnoses.  Read this part carefully.  If you see more than one doctor, there is a chance she may not be taking all of your diagnoses into consideration.
  • Interactions–these are other drugs or food that may affect your medication.  Some meds cannot be taken with other meds, some need food to be taken with it, and some should be taken on an empty stomach.  You might not think about some interactions; green teas, grapefruit juice, or green leafy vegetables can alter some medication’s effectiveness!

Take an active role!  Double-check your physician and pharmacist (yes, even though they are educated, competent professionals… because they are human, too).  If you have a concern, bring it to their attention.
If your concerns aren’t addressed, take it to the next person.  This might be the pharmacist’s supervisor or manager.  If you don’t get a resolution, if the error is especially concerning for you, or if you see an ongoing pattern, you might want to report it to the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy (or your local equivelant).  It has a system for filing complaints.  Nobody likes to tattle, but knowing what kind of mistakes are occurring helps the Board take action to prevent them. Remember, you know your medication and your physical state better than anyone.  If something doesn’t feel right, it might not be!  Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

Remember: You are your own best advocate!!!


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