Modern medications are studied closely before they are permitted for use in patients. By the time a new drug is approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), various dosing guidelines, side effects, and interactions with other drugs are all included in a document called the “package insert.” This “package insert” information is also compiled in a large text book of medications called the Physician’s Desk Reference. Before a medical practitioner can prescribe a drug, they must be fully familiar with this information.
Several different variables must be considered by medical practitioners when prescribing medications. Children and the elderly often require smaller doses than adults between the ages of 18 and 60. Some medication doses are based upon the patient’s weight, while others may require a blood test to determine a person’s kidney or liver function.
There are several reasons why medication errors occur. In addition to the “Five Patient Rights” described above, below are some of the most common causes:
- Failure to follow dosing guidelines;
- Illegible prescriptions;
- Incorrect translation of abbreviations in prescriptions;
- Transcription errors while entering prescriptions into computer systems;
- Errors in unit measurement calculations;
- Pharmacy errors causing higher or lower strength versions of a drug to be dispensed;
- Confusion between different medications with similar sounding/spelled names;
- Administration errors (incorrect route of administration, giving the drug to the wrong patient, etc.).
There are many things that you can do to protect yourself from medication errors. Most importantly, pay attention to what you are being prescribed, which is frequently provided to patients by way of a paper prescription or visit summary form. When you pick up the medication from the pharmacy, compare the information on the label with what you were given by your medical provider. If the medication, strength or dosing instructions are different in any way, contact your medical provider immediately.