How to Take Prescription Medications Safely

Special Feature from Claremont EAP


Your health care provider and pharmacist work hard to keep you healthy, but you also need to take responsibility for your care, and that includes medications.

“The more information you have about your medications and the more insistent you are about having answers to all your questions regarding your care, the better able you are to prevent errors,” says Hedy Cohen, R.N., B.S.N., M.S., vice president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

The following recommendations from the ISMP can help keep you and your family safe from medication errors.

At Your Provider’s Office

Work with your health care provider to make sure every medication you take is necessary and appropriate.

To do so:

  • Make sure your provider knows about all medications you are taking. Take a list of medications every time you go to a provider’s office. Each provider you see needs to know about the medications other doctors prescribe for you. Your list should include the name of the medicine, the dose and the times you take it.
  • Tell your provider if you have any allergies or adverse reactions to medicines.
  • Ask your provider to explain what’s written on any prescription, including the drug name and how often you should take it.
  • Ask your provider to write the purpose for the drug on the prescription.
  • Ask your provider if you need to avoid any food, drink or activities while taking the medication.
  • If your provider gives you samples, make sure he or she checks that there will be no potential interactions with your other medications. Pharmacies have computers to check for drug interactions and allergies, but when your doctor gives you samples, this important check may be missed.


At the Pharmacy

Your pharmacist can help you stay safe. Find one who will keep a complete list of all your medications and chronic medical conditions in the computer.

When you take the prescription to the pharmacy, double-check the information on the label when you get it from the pharmacist. When you get a refill of a medication you are taking, look at the medication while you are in the pharmacy to make sure the medication looks like the ones you took previously. If the medication looks different, ask your pharmacist for an explanation before you leave the pharmacy.

“Have him or her include the over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal products you take,” says Ms. Cohen. “With this information in one place, your pharmacist can help protect you against harmful drug interactions, duplicate medications and other potential problems.”

Also make sure you understand the answers to the following questions:

  • What are the brand and generic names of the medication?
  • Why am I taking it?
  • How much should I take and how often? (If the medicine is liquid, ask for the best way to take it.)
  • When is the best time to take it?
  • How long will I need to take it?
  • What side effects should I expect, and what should I do if they happen?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Does this interact with my other medications or any foods or beverages?
  • Does this replace anything else I was taking?

When you buy OTC medications, read the labels carefully. They could be dangerous for you because of a medical condition you have or because they could interact with your prescription medications. Ask your pharmacist for help if you have trouble selecting OTC products.

At Home

Many medication errors occur at home when people take the wrong medication or wrong dose, or take a medication incorrectly.

To take your medication safely:

  • Make a list of medications you take. Include the dose for each, how often you take them, the imprint on each tablet or capsule and the name of the pharmacy.
  • Any time your medications change, adjust your list, too. Double-check the imprints on the tablets and capsules.
  • Keep medications in their original containers. Many drugs look alike, so keeping them in their original containers will help you know which is which and how to take them.
  • Never take someone else’s medication. You don’t know if it will interact with your medications or if you could be allergic to it.
  • Read the label every time you take a dose to make sure you have the right drug and the right dose.
  • Turn on a light when you take medication at night to make sure you’re taking the right medication.
  • Keep medications for people separate from pets’ medications or household chemicals. Mix-ups can be dangerous.
  • Don’t chew, crush or break capsules or tablets unless instructed to do so.
  • To give liquid medication, use only the measuring device that came with it.


In the Hospital

If you’re scheduled for a hospital stay, be sure to do the following:

  • Take your medications with you when you go to the hospital. Your doctors and nurses will need to know what you’re taking.
  • Ask for the names of each medication you’re given and the reasons you’re taking them. That way, if anyone tells you something different, you’ll know to ask questions, which might prevent errors.
  • Look at all medicines before you take them. If one doesn’t look like what you usually take, ask why.
  • Don’t let anyone give you medications without checking your hospital ID bracelet every time.
  • When it’s time to go home, have the doctor or nurse go over each medication with you and a family member. Update your medication list from home if any prescriptions change or if new medications are added.

“Remember, the single most important way you can help prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team,” Ms. Cohen says. “You can do this by being informed and by taking active steps to protect yourself. Never hesitate to question a health care professional or express your concerns.”

Source: Krames Staywell

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