How to Avoid Medication Errors for Seniors

Did you know that each year nearly 1.5 million people are injured by medication errors? Medication errors are not only expensive – to the tune of almost $2 billion per year just in hospital costs – but are also potentially catastrophic. With seniors, the potential dangers of medication errors are even greater due to their declining health or other medical conditions.

But what is a ‘medication error?’
A medication error is defined as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing; order communication; product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature; compounding; dispensing; distribution; administration; education; monitoring; and use” by The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention.

What are the most common medication errors?
You need to know what the most common errors are in order to know how to avoid them. An FDA study found that the most common medication error was improper dosage. Something as simple as the amount of medicine a patient should have has caused 41% of medication error fatalities. The next most common errors are patients being given the wrong drug or using the wrong route of administration.

Are seniors at increased risk?
Yes! Nearly half of the medication errors that resulted in patient deaths occurred in individuals over 60 years old. Seniors tend to be at higher risk due to compromised or declining health and multiple health conditions. Older patients tend to take more medications, raising the risk of a dosage or administration error. These issues also increase the possibility of poor drug interactions.

How can medication errors be avoided?
There are a number of things seniors and their loved ones can do to reduce the likelihood of a medication error.

Always find out from a physician the name of a drug, the intended use and the correct dosage. Make sure you write down any special instructions, including handling and storage. Write down the generic name of the drug, as well, since you may end with it at the pharmacy. Patients shouldn’t be afraid to ask the pharmacist questions if the pill bottle label is different, or the pill itself looks different from they are used to taking.When in the hospital, patients or family members should inquire as to what drugs are being administered, and why.Everyone should always make sure their doctor is aware of every drug, supplement and vitamin they are taking, even it’s ibuprofen and cold medicine. Be sure to bring a list of all of your current medications and allergies to the hospital, your doctor or specialist.A little bit of technology may be coming to the rescue and reducing the number of medication errors. With patient records slowly becoming electronic, doctors are beginning to implement clinical tools that give them a heads-up when medications conflict with each other or with certain aspects of a patient’s medical history.

Have you ever been given the wrong medication? What happened?

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