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Tips to help reduce the odds of a medication mistake

When you get a new prescription medication, do you know what the pills should look like? Or do you trust that the little orange vial that you get from the pharmacy is the right one and take the contents as directed?

We all know that we should understand exactly what we're taking, but the reality is that a lot of people assume that the doctor got it right, they assume that the pharmacy got it right and they assume that they can take that medication without worry.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of room for error in there. If your physician makes a mistake, your health could be in jeopardy even when you follow the directions. If the pharmacy messes up your order, you could face serious ramifications even if your doctor prescribed the right drug.

You must take an active role in this process. Below are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • Ask for clarification if there are any other drugs with a similar name. For instance, did you know that a steroid cream goes by the name Desowen, while a contraception is known as Desogen? Those are vastly different things, even though the names are just a single letter apart.
  • Talk to your doctor if the script is hard to read. This has gotten a bit better with the shift to computers and electronic documentation, but doctors are famous for scribbling out prescriptions that no one can read. If you think it needs clarification, ask for it. Your doctor will be happy to oblige.
  • Along with the above, ask your doctor to pronounce the name for you. Say it again when you pick the medication up at the pharmacy. Even when the writing looks similar, this gives multiple professionals a chance to catch the mistake.
  • Understand what the medications are supposed to do and how you're supposed to take them. Learn as much as you can about your own treatment. This way, you'll know if something feels off. If the doctor tells you that you'll get a small pill that could make you feel light-headed and then you get a large pill that makes you feel nauseated, it raises a red flag.
  • Mention your symptoms at the pharmacy. When they ask you what you're picking up, say the name of the medication and the intended use. You don't need to go in depth about your health conditions, but you want the pharmacist to catch it if you're mentioning symptoms that the drug they're giving you will not treat.

It is also important to remember that you're not responsible for the mistakes made by a medical professional. You deserve better treatment than that, and you may deserve compensation after a serious error.

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