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Medication Errors: How to Protect Yourself

You leave your doctor's office with a prescription in hand. Next step: pharmacy. By this point, you are probably exhausted and in a rush to get home to rest. This, however, may be the most crucial time for you to stay awake and alert. Here's why:

Pharmacies are staffed by humans. Humans are not perfect. Errors not only CAN happen, they DO, at rates higher than you might expect. To protect yourself from a possible pharmacy-related error, here are some steps to take:

1. Know what your doctor prescribed

Not just the condition you are treating, but what the name of the medication is, the strength, and how often and for what duration of time you are prescribed to take it. This information may be on an after-visit summary provided to you at the doctor's office, or it may simply mean you need to write down the information or take a snapshot of the prescription for reference as necessary. If you don't know what was prescribed, how will you know if the pharmacy filled it incorrectly? This information is crucial to protecting yourself!

2. Check the prescription bottle BEFORE you leave the pharmacy

Open the bag that the pharmacy staff member hands to you and check to make sure that the information on the label matches what your records show. If it doesn't, question it immediately. There may be a good reason it is different, or it may be an actual error. This would also be a good time to double check that the tablets or capsules in the bottle match the label. How will you know? Each tablet or capsule is identified by a color and an imprint, which is typically a combination of letters and numbers. Some pharmacies include this information on the main label or auxiliary (supplemental) label and some don't. For those that don't, you can double check this yourself by going to and entering the information to identify the pill. If it matches the label, you're good. If it doesn't, ask the pharmacy staff.

3. Talk to the pharmacist

If this is a new medication, ask to talk to the pharmacist. That's why he/she is there. You will be given literature on the medication in your bag, but a quick consultation with the pharmacist will be helpful to get an overview of what common side effects to consider and how you should take it (i.e. with food, on an empty stomach, no alcohol, etc).

These steps shouldn't be time intensive, but they WILL help to ensure you are taking the appropriate medication and you are educated on what to expect. Being proactive will help you tremendously!

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