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What You Need to Know About Medication Errors

One of the most common types of medical mistakes has to do with medication errors — when patients take too many, too few or the wrong pills. Medications and herbal supplements can also interact and end up working against each other. Medication errors can be very serious and lead to major complications, admission to the hospital or even death. The good news is that patients and family members can help prevent medication errors. Many medication errors occur at "transition points" such as when patients enter the hospital, move from one room to another or leave the hospital to go home. Here are some ways you can help prevent medication errors at these transition points.

A list of your medications

You can help prevent errors by knowing about all the medications you take. But this can be hard to do. To help, make a list of all your medications. Then bring this list each time you see any health care provider. Your list can be written or kept electronically through an app on your cell phone or a portable storage drive. You can download a medication list form to get you started. If you have not yet made a list and have many medications, you can bring your medications with you.

Your medication list should include:

  • Names of all your medications (include prescriptions, over-the-counter remedies and herbal supplements; don't forget eye/ear drops, inhalers, patches, creams, ointments and suppositories).
  • Dosages (how much you take of each medication).
  • Time (how often you take the drug currently and how long you are supposed to take the medication for).
  • Form the medication is in (tablet, capsule, liquid, drops, patch, inhaler, suppository, injection, cream, ointment, etc.).
  • What the drug is expected to help you with.
  • If you take the medication "as needed," list the symptoms that prompt you to take the medication and how often you take it currently.

Contact information and allergies

As part of your medication list, also include:

  • Contact information for all pharmacies you use. If possible try to use only one pharmacy.
  • A listing of your health care providers, including primary care and specialists, what you see them for and their contact information.
  • An updated allergy list that notes what medications you are allergic to and what happened when you last took the drug that caused a reaction.
  • It is important to share this information with your family. In the event of an emergency, the hospital staff will have the contacts to find out what medications you are taking and any potential allergies you may have.

Download a medication list form to track all of this information.

Up-to-date medication information

Make sure to keep your medication list up-to-date.

  • Ask the doctor or nurse if your list includes all the medications you take now. If updates are made, ask for a printout of the new list before you leave.
  • Change the information on your list each time you start or stop taking a medication.
  • Ask a pharmacist to review your medication list and make any needed changes. The staff at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Outpatient Pharmacy in Lebanon, NH will be happy to review your medications with you. Call (603) 653-3785 to set up an appointment.
  • Make sure that the medications you are taking do not interact with one another. Ask your pharmacist for help if you aren't sure.
  • Work with your pharmacy to properly dispose of medication you no longer take. Also, refer to guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Ways to use a medication list

  • Bring your medication list each time you go to the hospital, emergency room, or clinic.
  • If you are too sick to do so yourself, ask a family member to show the medication list to your doctors and nurses.
  • Make sure your family has the list of your doctors and pharmacists along with phone numbers. This way, they can help the hospital staff find out what medications you take.
  • When you leave the hospital, talk with the doctor or nurse about the medications you will take at home. This is also a good time to ask why you need to take these medications.

Helpful forms to keep track of your medications