In fact, the Mayo Clinic estimates that seven out of ten Americans have one prescription they take daily. While the most commonly prescribed medication in the US is an antibiotic, the contenders include antidepressants and opioids.
Therefore, when you visit your physician, you are likely to find yourself walking out with a prescription of some kind. Whether you are being treated for depression, an infection, or seasonal allergies, prescriptions find their way into consumer homes.
Even if there is a legitimate need for that medication, patients need to advocate for themselves. That means finding out what prescriptions they are taking, why they are taking them, and how they should take them.
Prescription Errors Are Too Common
An estimated 44,000 to 98,000 fatalities occur each year from medical errors. Approximately 7,000 of those come from medication errors alone, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Prescription errors take many forms. The most common include:
- Dispensing Errors – Dispensing errors occur on the pharmacy side; not the physician. When a prescription is written, the pharmacy must review it and ensure that the prescription is accurate and the right medication is dispensed. Also, a pharmacy must review any patient records to ensure the medication prescribed does not interact with one already prescribed. Lastly, they must ensure they dispense the medication with the proper dosage and instructions. When they fail to do any of these obligations, they can be liable for a patient’s injury.
- Prescribing Errors – Physicians may prescribe the wrong medication to a patient, fail to look for deadly interactions with other medications taken, or give an incorrect dosage. In these cases, a patient may suffer serious harm, and the physician could be liable.
- Overprescribing – Sometimes, the right medication is prescribed but it is prescribed for too long, for too high of a dose, or prescribed unnecessarily.
What Is the Most Common Error?
The most common medication error according to a study by the FDA is administering the improper dose of medication – which accounted for 41 percent of medication-related fatalities from 1993 to 1998. In second was using the wrong medication or the wrong administration technique – which accounted for 16 percent of errors recorded.
How Patients Can Protect Themselves
As a patient, you have the right to ask questions and ensure that you are receiving the best possible medical care. When a physician prescribes a medication, you can ask questions about that medication and you have the right to refuse it.
The biggest issue in healthcare right now is that there is no standardized practice for how a provider will talk to a patient about medications they prescribe. That is because this does not follow the same rules as informed consent for medical procedures. Therefore, doctors take their own approach when discussing medications.
In one study, it was found that the average physician spends only 12 seconds actually talking about medication side effects. In another study, a shocking 50 percent of physician conversations never discussed the side effects of the new prescription.
A physician is there to answer questions, and it is not always up to the physician to go over everything. When a patient does not ask, they assume that they can move on to the next room without complication.
Before you walk out the door with a prescription medication, you can protect yourself from becoming another medication error statistic by asking the following critical questions:
What Is the Exact Name of the Medication (and the Generic)?
Before you leave, ask for the name and spelling of the medication, then verify that the prescription you have matches that. Furthermore, when you leave the pharmacy, make sure you have the same prescription. Because some doctors authorize the pharmacy to dispense the generic form, ask your physician about the generic you are likely to receive.
If you receive a medication with a name that does not match the ones your physician discussed with you, talk to the pharmacist and make sure you were given the right medication.
What Does the Medication Do? How Does it Work?
You should never take a prescription if you do not know how it works and what it does. For example, if you have high blood pressure, how will the medication work in your body to lower it? Are there studies that show it is effective at lowering your blood pressure?
Knowing the intricacies of how the medication works inside your body and the results it produces is important. It will tell you what you can expect from the medication.
What Are the Benefits of Taking the Prescription?
You should always ask for the benefits of the prescription, because you want to ensure you are taking something worth paying for and enduring possible risks for as well.
You want to get to the heart of why you should take this drug and what you should expect if you take it. While every patients’ exact response to a medication can vary, your doctor will have a generalized idea of the benefits and what you should see.
For example, you are taking an antidepressant. Your physician would be able to tell you an estimated number of weeks it will take before you feel anything, what you should expect, and the realistic benefits that come from using the medication.
Am I at Risk for a Drug Interaction?
Drug interactions are very serious. While most prescription medications can work together to help cure or treat illnesses and conditions, there are some that cannot be taken together. This includes over-the-counter medications.
Ask your doctor about any potential interactions with prescriptions you take now. Also, discuss over-the-counter medications (including herbal treatments) you take regularly. For example, some medications may prohibit you from taking over-the-counter pain relievers like Acetaminophen.
Your risk of a complication increases the more prescription medications you are on. Therefore, you should always make sure you need the new prescription and that there are no interactions with the others you could be taking.
What Side Effects Might I Experience and How Likely Are They?
Find out about the common side effects and how common they might be. Certain medical conditions and medications can increase the chances of a side effect appearing as well. If you notice any of the side effects discussed, ask your physician what you should do about them. Some will fade over time, while others require you to stop the medication and seek medical treatment immediately.
Side effects can range from difficulty sleeping to shortness of breath or serious complications like chest pain and blood clots. Therefore, knowing the more common side effects is important so that you know what to look out for.
What Are the Risks of This Medication?
Risks and side effects are sometimes used interchangeably but should not always be categorized as the same. Sometimes a medication carries side effects, but there are also other risks with taking that medication. For example, a medicine may put you at higher risk for infection because it disables your immune system.
What Is the Dose and How Should You Take the Medication?
Medication errors can not only happen when a physician writes the prescription, but also when the pharmacy dispenses it. You can protect yourself from this by discussing the dosage for your medication and how often or when you should take it. Then, verify that the prescription given to you at the pharmacy states the same information.
How you take a medication may increase or decrease its effectiveness. Therefore, always discuss how you should take it properly. Some medications must be taken with food, while others must be taken first thing in the morning without food.
How Soon Will the Medication Work?
Some medications, like opioid painkillers, work right away. Other medications can take days to weeks to fully show their results. Antidepressants, for example, can take a few days to build up proper levels. Getting a generalized idea of how long it will take is best so that you know what to expect.
Do I Have Alternatives?
Sometimes, physicians are quick to prescribe. Some may feel that their patient is there ready for medication, while other times they prescribe without exploring alternatives.
There may be a medication available that has fewer risks and side effects, but you would not know of it unless you ask your doctor.
Also, you may have a non-medication option for treating your condition. For example, you could just need more physical exercise instead of a prescription. So, be sure to ask your doctor if there are safe, effective, non-medication alternatives too.
What Lifestyle Changes Do I Need to Make?
A medication is not always a magic pill. Sometimes, medications are more effective when they are combined with other changes. For example, you may need to quit alcohol, smoking, or get more exercise. You may need to cut back on specific foods to help your prescription work at its best.
What Happens If I Miss a Dose?
It is hard to manage one medication. But if you are on multiple prescriptions, it becomes worse. You will want to discuss what you should do if you miss a dose and if you can retake the one you missed or must wait until the next dosage time.
Does My Insurance Cover the Prescription?
Your doctor should know if the prescription is part of your insurance company’s formulary. If it is not, see if a generic version will be covered instead. This helps save you from unnecessary out-of-pocket costs.
What Should I Do If a Medication Error Injures Me?
When a medication error causes serious injury, it is in your best interest to speak with an attorney. A malpractice attorney can help review your case and determine if you qualify for compensation.