Be Your Own Advocate: Watch For Prescription Drug Mistakes
Noble McIntyre on December 3, 2013
Every so often, we hear a scary story on the news about prescription medication treatment gone horribly wrong. Once you’re diagnosed with an illness or condition that requires prescription drug treatment, there are numerous layers between the medication, itself, and you, the patient. There are errors that occur within the manufacturing and packaging process, incorrect or illegible dosages written by medical providers, errors that occur with identification or dosing of meds in the pharmacy and—unfortunately—user error by patients who perhaps don’t or can’t understand the correct way that medication should be administered.
Some of these issues are far beyond your control as the patient. There are drug defects that happen within the manufacturing process, and there’s little a consumer can do about that preventively. If you do find yourself injured by a defective drug, McIntyre Law can help get you the restitution you deserve.
However, more often, errors occur because a physician writes a scrip with a decimal point in the wrong place, or a poorly trained pharmacy tech will misidentify pills. Sometimes, even top-notch physicians and careful pharmacies make mistakes, which means that you need to be your own advocate and take charge of your medical care by taking a few precautions to ensure that your treatment is correct for your condition. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has suggestions for ways that you can manage your medication.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions
- Ask what’s being prescribed. When your doctor diagnoses a condition, s/he may write a prescription, put it in your hand or send it electronically to the pharmacy. Take a moment to ask your provider what’s being prescribed, what it’s for (i.e. does it eliminate infection, lessen pain, prevent another symptom, etc.) and what are the possible side effects. You also want to know whether the physician has indicated that it’s “DAW” (“dispense as written”), which means that the pharmacy should not substitute a generic version, or if the generic substitute is fine. Yes, your doctor might be in a hurry, but you have a right to know what medication is being prescribed. Know the name of the drug and the dosage so that if there are any errors at the pharmacy, you will know before you take it.
- Find out specifically how you’re supposed to use the medication. At the time the medication is prescribed, ask your doctor how many times a day and for how many days you should take the medication. Also, find out if it might interact with anything else that’s part of your lifestyle – this includes not only other drugs you’re taking, but also whether you need to stay away from specific foods, alcohol or other things. There are some drugs, for example, that make you more susceptible to getting a sunburn, so you have to know this up front in order to take appropriate precautions. It’s a good idea to ask again about interactions and dosing at the pharmacy; sometimes the pharmacists have more up-to-date information about specific drugs. However, if anything about the dosing or time period seems inconsistent, that’s a red flag that you need to ask some follow-up questions.
- Do a visual inspection of your medicine before you take it. When you get your meds from the pharmacy, you need to ensure that what’s in the bottle is what was prescribed. There are lots of resources for figuring out whether the pills you’ve been given are correct: The Pill Book is an illustrated guide to the most-prescribed drugs that gives lots of information and pictures, RxList and Drugs.com are online resources that do the same. Some pharmacies include a description on the label of what the pill should look like. Be sure that it actually looks like what the label indicates, or check one of the identification sites or books. Make sure that any letters or numbers imprinted on your pills match the descriptions. If not, ask the pharmacist for verification.
- Be sure that the physician and pharmacy know your drug allergies. Drug allergies are serious, and they can be fatal. If your provider doesn’t ask about your drug allergies every time a drug is prescribed, volunteer the information. Sometimes, a drug might be in the same family as one to which you’re allergic, but you might not recognize that from its name. Also, there might be other, inactive substances in the preservation or manufacture of certain drugs that can be related to something to which you’re allergic. If you’re using a pharmacy that has your allergies on file, these should cross-reference in its system, but it’s best to double-protect by asking both the physician and the pharmacy to ensure that the medication is one that’s safe for you to take.When starting a new medication, all of your health care providers need to know about anything else you’re taking, prescription or otherwise. Even vitamins and dietary supplements like herbals can interact with various drugs, and your provider likely doesn’t have it recorded anywhere what non-prescription substances you’re taking. Even if combining a prescription medication and an herbal remedy doesn’t cause a bad interaction, it can decrease the effectiveness of one or the other, so you need to be informed.
Once again, you’re your own best defense against medication errors. Health care providers are busy people, but they have a responsibility to answer your questions fully and accurately and to respond to your concerns. They hold your health, and maybe your life, in their hands. Be an informed consumer and check and double-check any medications that you or your loved ones are prescribed.