October is ‘Talk About Prescriptions’ month, but it’s something that we should talk about whenever we’re prescribed medication. If we’re given the wrong medication, the wrong dose or in combination with another medication that results in a dangerous reaction, our health and lives can be at risk. If we take medications that impact our ability to work, drive or even walk safely, this can also result in injuries to ourselves and others.
You can take steps to protect yourself from medication errors, which are errors where someone did something, or failed to do something, at any step in the process that begins with a healthcare professional’s prescribing you a medication and ends when you receive it. An adverse drug event (ADE) is harm to a patient due to exposure to a medication.
Being proactive can reduce the risk of dangerous drug side effects, but despite your efforts they still may occur. According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
- There are more than 10,000 prescription medications available.
- Nearly a third of adults in the U.S. take five or more medications.
- ADEs account for nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year.
- ADEs affect almost 5% of hospitalized patients, making them one of the most frequent inpatient medical care errors.
HHS states there are several risks concerning most ADEs. Risks are based on issues concerning the specific patient and the specific drug or drugs being used.
- Taking more medications than what’s clinically proper is the biggest ADE risk factor.
- Elderly patients take more medications and are more vulnerable to adverse effects than the general population.
- Pediatric patients are at a higher risk, especially when hospitalized.
- Other risks are limited health literacy of patients and difficulty they may have in taking proper dosage at the right times or otherwise following instructions.
Most ADEs are caused by popular medications that carry risks when used as prescribed, but also offer significant benefits if used properly. These include:
- Antidiabetic agents (such as insulin)
- Oral anticoagulants (like Warfarin)
- Antiplatelet agents (aspirin and clopidogrel (or Plavix)).
HHS estimates these four drugs account for nearly half of all emergency department visits for ADEs in Medicare patients.
What can you do to protect yourself? The National Council on Patient Information and Education has this handout you can bring with you the next time you see a physician. It has a number of questions you should ask so you can be educated about the medication so you will know its side effects and how it can be taken properly.
The Mayo Clinic also has these suggestions:
- Keep a list of all medications and herbal products you are taking and inform your physician of them before being prescribed another medication.
- Store medications in the original, labeled containers so you’ll know what they are.
- Keep your medications organized.
- Save information that came with the medications.
- Use the same pharmacy for your prescriptions.
- At the pharmacy, check the prescription to make sure it’s the one your doctor ordered.
- Don’t allow others to use your medication and don’t use someone else’s.
We help clients who are injured due to the use of medications. The vast majority of times when a patient uses a prescription, especially when the patient is well informed and uses it properly, there aren’t any problems. But there are occasions when the use of a medication, even as directed, can lead to serious injuries. If that’s happened to you or a loved one, contact our office so we can talk about what happened, what laws may apply and possible ways to obtain compensation for the injuries.