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Many medication errors can be prevented

Between the opioid epidemic and the high volume of medications that many older patients take these days, the risk of a medication error continues to be a primary concern for many people. Whether the errors occur while a patient is in the hospital or occur at home, there are numerous places where the system can break down and end up causing harm.

If you are lucky, someone catches the error before the drug reaches you, but that is not always the case. In fact, estimates indicate that at least half of all medication errors could have been prevented. The questions then become: what is the problem and what will correct it?

The medication dispensing process

Before looking at how to fix the problem, it may be a good idea to understand the process by which medications reach you:

  • Your doctor chooses the appropriate medication for your condition and determines the correct dosage and frequency.
  • Your pharmacist or a pharmacy technician then reads and interprets the prescription.
  • Your pharmacist then checks for potential allergies and drug interactions before dispensing the correct medication in the correct dosage.
  • You, a family member or a hospital staff member then administers the medication to you. The administrator must provide you with the right medication in the right dosage at the right time.

Any breakdown in this system could result in you suffering harm due to a medication error.

Fixing the medication dispensing process

Many recommend using automated systems in order to eliminate errors between the writing of the prescription and the reading of it. Even so, humans are still required to enter the information, and if not done correctly, errors can still occur. Certain strategies may help avoid confusion between medicines that look alike and sound alike. When it comes to the administration of medication, the following steps are recommended for inpatients:

  • Nurses should minimize interruptions in order to focus on administering medications correctly.
  • Barcode systems can help ensure that the right patient receives the right medication.
  • Infusion pumps could prevent errors for intravenously administered medications.
  • Nurses should stick to the "five rights" for administering medication, which involves ensuring that the right patient receives the right medication at the right dosage in the right way at the right time.
  • Patient understanding of administration instructions needs to be a priority.

Following these steps could keep you from suffering harm due to a medication error. In addition, doctors need to take the time to understand your history, current medications and any other factors that could place you at risk when taking a particular medication. Even when policies and systems exist to implement these potential "fixes" to the problem, if the people involved at each step fail to do their part, the patients suffer the consequences.

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