Published on September 27, 2023

7 Tips for Medication Safety

Taking medication safely and effectively is crucial for maintaining good health. However, medication errors are surprisingly common and can have serious consequences. A recent study found that adverse drug events affect nearly 5% of hospitalized patients, causing prolonged hospital stays and even death in some cases. With careful attention and planning, many medication mishaps can be avoided. Here are seven tips to promote medication safety for you and your loved ones.

Know Your Medications

Being informed about your medications is a key to using them safely. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for detailed information on any new prescription. Inquire about what condition the drug treats, its mechanism of action in the body, proper dosage, schedule for taking it, and expected duration of treatment. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if any instructions are unclear.

It’s also essential to stay organized. Maintain an up-to-date list of all your current prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and herbal products. Bring this list to all medical appointments and pharmacy visits. Review it regularly with your healthcare team to ensure accuracy. Keep a medication log to record when you take each dose. This helps ensure you are following instructions properly.

Use Reminders

Consistently taking medications on the proper schedule is crucial for good health, but it is easy to forget. Using prompts and alerts helps avoid missed or late doses. If you take several medications, get a pill organizer box with compartments labeled by day and time. Fill it once a week to pre-sort your doses. To ensure you get your medicine on time, use services or applications that offer timely reminders. Set a daily reminder on your phone or computer when it’s time to take each medicine. Smartphone apps like Medisafe allow you to input all your medications and get notifications for each one.

Tell family members your dosing schedule so they can gently remind you. Linking medication-taking to daily habits like breakfast or brushing teeth can help cement the routine. Keep a checklist posted where you store meds. If you still struggle to remember, consider asking a friend or relative to call you or even stop by to ensure you take medications on time. Don’t let forgetfulness reduce the benefits of your treatment.

Check Interactions

Taking multiple medications raises the risk of drug interactions, which can decrease effectiveness or cause side effects. Before starting any new prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, or herbal supplement, have your pharmacist screen for interactions with your current medications, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Make sure to disclose all substances you take, even occasionally, to allow complete review.

Whenever new medications are prescribed, ask your doctor if they interact with your existing prescriptions. Check labels on over-the-counter products for warnings related to your medications. Avoid mixing drugs and alcohol unless explicitly approved by your physician. Stay alert to possible interactions by reporting new symptoms after starting medications or supplements. Proactively checking for interactions keeps your medication regimen as safe as possible.

Handle Medications Safely

The way you store and handle medications can impact safety. Keep all prescriptions in original containers with legible labels. Never combine pills in one bottle or transfer to daily organizers until ready to take the dose. Childproof caps and restricted access help avoid accidental ingestion. Follow storage instructions like avoiding moisture, direct light, and extreme temperatures.

When taking liquid medications, only use the dispenser provided by the pharmacy for measuring doses. Discard opened liquids after the recommended timeframe. Keep medications organized in one location away from pets and children to prevent errors. Properly dispose of unused or expired medicines to prevent misuse. With careful handling and storage, medications remain safe and effective as directed.

Communicate with Your Healthcare Team

Clear communication with your doctors, pharmacists, and other providers is key for medication safety. Be sure to tell your primary doctor or specialist about any new prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, supplements, or herbal products you start taking. Mention any worrisome symptoms you experience after beginning a new medication. Ask clarifying questions if you are uncertain about anything related to your medications.

Keep an up-to-date written list of all your medical conditions, drug allergies, and medications. Share this comprehensive list with every doctor, specialist, pharmacist, nurse, or therapist who provides your care. Review it at each visit to prevent omissions. Inform all your healthcare providers about changes to your health status, medication regimen, or allergies. Proactively sharing information helps prevent adverse medication reactions or interactions.

Stay engaged with your pharmacist, who can advise about medication safety issues. When picking up new prescriptions, ask your pharmacist to check for interactions. Call them with any medication-related questions that come up. Developing open, collaborative relationships with your healthcare team optimizes medication safety.

Take Medications as Directed

To get the intended benefits from medications, it is essential to take them exactly as prescribed by your doctor and described on the label. Never skip doses, take extra doses, or adjust the timing or amount on your own. This could reduce effectiveness, trigger side effects, or be dangerous.

If you miss a dose, follow label instructions or call your doctor – don’t just double up. Report any bothersome side effects that interfere with taking your medicines properly. Your doctor may be able to adjust the prescription or dosage to improve tolerability. Set reminders and use pill organizers to help you adhere to the prescribed schedule. Taking medications precisely as directed maintains optimal therapeutic effects.

Be Especially Careful with High-Alert Drugs

Certain types of medications require extra safety precautions. Drugs like blood thinners, insulin, opioids for pain, and sedatives are considered “high-alert” due to increased risks. Since mistakes with these drugs can be harmful, use extra vigilance when taking them.

Ask your pharmacist to put high-alert medication stickers on containers as a visual reminder. Double-check the dose before every use. Tell all your healthcare providers you are taking high-alert drugs. Never adjust doses of high-risk medications on your own. Even small dosage changes can be dangerous with high-alert drugs. Following precautions helps minimize risks when using these critical medications.

Conclusion

Medication safety should be a top priority for everyone. By being informed, paying close attention, planning ahead, and communicating with your healthcare providers, you can avoid many common medication errors. Keep an up-to-date medication list and take medications exactly as prescribed. Use reminders, read labels, and store medicines properly. Check for interactions and report any concerns immediately. With vigilance and the right precautions, you can take medications safely and get the most benefit from your treatments.


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