There are many horror stories involving patients making errors when taking their medications. In fact, medication errors are becoming more common today.

Pharmacists are making their own set of errors when filling a prescription. Drugs that look alike but have completely different effects have been accidentally given to patients. Cross-contamination due to unclean compounding areas exist.

Pharmacists have even given the wrong medication to the wrong patient. Maybe they had similar names, maybe they didn’t. These accidents are happening.

Aside from pharmacist mistakes, patients are making their own errors. These are errors that are preventable. With just a small amount of education, patients could have better control over their medicine intake and make fewer errors, potentially saving their lives.


Medication Errors Made by Patients

You may think your patients hear everything you say during your office visit. You may think they will read the label on the prescription bottle before taking their medicine. You may even think patients will automatically connect new symptoms to a medication interaction or side effect.

You are wrong.

Patients are often nervous and feel rushed during your visit with them. This prevents them from asking questions regarding their prescription. They may even feel shame for not understanding your instructions the first time.

When they go to the pharmacist to pick up a prescription, they feel even less comfortable asking for guidance. Instead, they are focused on not angering the line of people behind them, also waiting for a prescription.

So, they deny the opportunity to talk with a pharmacist, grab their medication, and head home. While literature is often stapled to the outside of the prescription bag, it is rare that patients read this information.

Some of your patients are not good readers to begin with. Some do not understand the clinical language used in the brochures. Some just don’t want to read it.

All of this leads to patient errors when taking medication. Some miss doses and some take too many doses. Some do not store their medication properly. They forget to refrigerate liquid medicines, or they keep their pills in their car which has a temperature over 100 degrees in the summer.

Any such errors can affect how well the medication will work. Meaning, a patient’s health will not improve if they are not taking the medication the right way.

Many of these errors can be avoided with a few simple actions.

Keep reading to learn ways to increase patient safety by avoiding medication mistakes.


Educate Patients

Educating your patients is one of the top ways to help them prevent having a medication error. It only takes you a few extra minutes to explain a prescription to your patients. This few minutes could save them from a life-threatening event.

Educating your patients does not mean teaching a class for a semester and grading them on their abilities to adapt.

Educating means taking an extra ten minutes at the time of the office visit to provide your patient with correct information on taking medication. It means you teach your patients about positive and negative side effects they may experience, what to do if they have negative side effects, potential drug interactions and who to call in case of emergency.

Educating patients also means you discuss medication storage, expiration dates, refills, overdosing, under-dosing, when to take medication, how to take it, and even medication tracking.


Consider In-Office Dispensing

Dispensing medicine from the point of care offers so many benefits to the patient, including increasing patient safety and avoiding medication errors.

In-office dispensing means you are the pharmacist. You prescribe and fill a patient’s medicine in your office, and they leave with a filled prescription. Not only does this cut out the pharmacy, where mistakes are made daily, but it allows you more time with your patients.

You have more control over how your patients are following your treatment plan. In-office dispensing programs come equipped with many safety measures.


Choose the Right Medication Packaging

The safest way to give a patient a prescription is when the medication is separated and individually packaged, so each day the patient will punch out the pill to be taken. If the pill has already been taken for the day, the patient will easily see this because the pouch will be empty.

There is no guessing and taking too many or too few pills in one day is eliminated.

Blister packs are a popular packaging used with in-office dispensing. They have shown to offer great benefits and patient satisfaction, as well as preventing errors.

Packaging like this comes with proper labeling.


Provide Better Labeling

There is a lot of information that needs to go on such a small package. Getting the right information on the label is imperative to helping patients avoid medication mistakes.

Labels should include your contact information, expiration and refill dates, and specific instructions. Labels should not state, “take twice daily”. This can be too general, and patients may take too pills at once.

Instead, it could read, “Take one pill at breakfast with food and take one pill at night right before you go to bed.”  The more details you can give your patients, the safer they will be.


Follow-Up with Your Patients Often

Many doctors will see a patient, prescribe a new medicine and won’t see them again for a month or even six months. A lot can happen during this time apart, especially with medication.

Follow-up with your patients within a week of starting them on a new medicine. Have one of your staff contact them and question them on any new symptoms they are experiencing, whether they have seen improvements, had interactions, and are still taking the medicine as prescribed.

Sometimes patients quit taking their medicine altogether when they don’t understand it. By following up with them, you can help patients stay on track with their treatment plan goals.

Ultimately, your goal is to improve the life of your patients the best you can. Increasing their safety from medication mistakes is one way you can reach this goal.