Straight, No Chaser: Defending Yourself From Medication Errors

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Every time you take medication or allow someone to administer it to you, you are taking a significant leap of faith. Think about it. How many individual things do you do daily that are as potentially dangerous as ingesting medicines that, if taken in the wrong dose, have effects that can include death?

These types of adverse drugs reactions resulting from medication errors are commonly seen in emergency departments. There are many other examples.

  • Diabetics commonly have low sugar reactions (hypoglycemia) from unintentionally overdosing on their insulin.
  • Patients on blood thinners commonly bleed when the dosage is too high. They often present with bleeding from their stomach, nose, in their stools and brain.
  • Patients taking medication for erectile dysfunction occasionally have heart attacks. Over-exuberance can lead to taking higher doses, thus increasing the risk.
  • Taking higher-than-prescribed doses of pain-killers can lead to failure of your lungs and death.

Sometimes these mistakes result from medicines resembling each other or having similar names. Some patients may have poor eyesight or be slightly confused. These errors occur at home, in the doctor’s office and in the hospital. Misuses that lead to adverse drug events include taking incorrect doses, taking doses at the wrong times, forgetting to take doses, or stopping the medication too soon. The point is you need intentionally know all you can about your medicines and protect yourself when taking them. At least you can control that aspect of things.

Unfortunately, many medication dosing errors don’t occur in a hospital or doctor’s office setting where effects can rapidly be discovered and treated.  Even worse, some errors lead to circumstances that aren’t easily identifiable when you come into the ER for treatment, especially if you’re suffering from altered mental status as a result. If this occurs while you’re taking a dangerous medicine, those errors can become fatal.

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Here are some simple tips to help you minimize your risks and maximize your ability to recover when medication errors occur.

  • When you’re about to take a new medicine, actually make an effort to get to know the medication. Ask questions about why you’re taking it, what to expect and how you should respond. Learn what should prompt you to stop the medicine and/or get reevaluated when on the medication. This isn’t a long list. Usually the tips are short but critical for you to know.
  • Follow the directions that come with your medicines. Develop a habit of discussing your new medicine with the pharmacist and your physician.
  • Discuss the effects of the combination of any new medications your doctor prescribes with medications you were already taking.
  • Keep a list of the names, doses and frequency with which you take your medicine. Keep this list in your wallet or purse. This list should include supplements, herbals and over-the-counter medications. This list could save your life. Trust me, we spent a lot of time in emergency rooms looking for these lists. Your family won’t always be around when you become sick and/or are found unconscious.
  • Never take medications prescribed for someone else.
  • Never allow a child to have access to a medicine not prescribed for him or her.
  • Go to whatever lengths are necessary to secure the medicines in your home. This not only childproofs your home, but it also protects others who may use your medicines.

Take these simple steps because you just never know. Medicines heal, but they also can kill.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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