|Combating Medication Errors - It Takes a Team|
for Consumers and Health Care Professionals
A critical first step in promoting safe and appropriate medicine use is to allow and encourage patients to take a more active role in their own medical care. One of the most effective ways to reduce medication errors is to move toward a model of health care where there is more of a partnership between the patients and the health care providers. Patients should understand more about their medications and take more responsibility for monitoring those medications, while providers should take steps to educate, consult with, and listen to the patients.
The National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) has, since the mid 1980's promoted the "medicine education team." If you take medicines - or if you manufacture, prescribe, dispense, or educate people about the proper use of medications - then you are a member of the "medicine education team." If you're a consumer, you have an important role to play on your "medicine education team." Together with your health care professionals (doctors, pharmacists, nurse and others), you should decide which treatment options are best for you. If medicines are suggested (whether prescription or non-prescription), then take a minute to ask questions about how to use them safely and appropriately (see below for 10 key questions).
To make this new model of open communication and share responsibilities in health care work, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other providers must communicate more with patients at every "teachable medicine moment," and make that communication a two-way street, listening to the patients as well as talking to them. They should inform their patients fully about the risks, contraindications, and possible side effects of the medications they are taking and what to do if they experience a side effect. They should also be more forthcoming when medication errors have occurred and explain what the consequences have been.
Resource: Medication Counseling Guidelines for the Ambulatory Care Setting (American Medical Association)
Patients or their caregivers should take a more active role in the process. They should learn to keep careful records of all the medications they are taking and take greater responsibility for monitoring those medications by, for example, double checking prescriptions from pharmacies and reporting any unexpected changes in how they feel after starting a new medication.
Also, the healthcare system needs to do a better job of educating patients and of providing ways for patients to educate themselves. Patients should be given opportunities to consult about their medications at various stages in their care -- during consultation with the providers who prescribe their medications, at discharge from the hospital, at the pharmacy, and so on.
If you take medicines - or if you manufacture, prescribe, dispense, or educate people about the proper use of medications - then "Talk About Prescriptions" Month is for you.
If you're a consumer, you have an important role to play on your "medicine education team." Together with your health care professionals (doctors, pharmacists, nurse and others), you should decide which treatment options are best for you. If medicines are suggested (whether prescription or non-prescription), then take time to ask questions about how to use them safely and appropriately. Here's what NCPIE encourages you to ask:
Preventing medication errors is achievable, but only if consumers and their healthcare providers work together every time medicines are part of the treatment plan.
- What is the name of the medicine and what is it for? (Is this the brand or generic name?)
- Is a generic version of this medicine available?
- How and when do I take it - and for how long?
- What foods, drinks, other medicines, dietary supplements, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
- When should I expect the medicine to begin to work, and how will I know if it is working? Are there any tests required with this medicine (for example, to check liver or kidney function)?
- Are there any side effects, what are they, and what do I do if they occur?
- Will this medicine work safely with the other prescription and non-prescription medicines I am taking? Will it work safely with any dietary/herbal supplements I am taking?
- Can I get a refill? If so, when?
- How should I store this medicine?
- Is there any written information available about the medicine? (Is it available in large print, or in a language other than English?)