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Top 20 tips for preventing medical errors

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by Brian Brian, ASN, RN (Member)

Brian has 16 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in CCU, Geriatrics, Critical Care, Tele.

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top 20 tips for preventing medical errors

a slightly expanded version of these tips is available online at www.ahrq.gov/consumer/#quality

source: u.s. agency for health care research and quality.


1. take part in every decision. research shows that patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results.


2. make sure that all of your doctors know about everything you are taking. this includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs.

3. tell your doctor about any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines.

4. when your doctor writes a prescription, make sure you can read it. if you can't, your pharmacist might not be able to either.

5. ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand:

  • what is the medicine for?
  • how am i supposed to take it, and for how long?
  • what side effects are likely? what do i do if they occur?
  • is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements i am taking?
  • what food, drink or activities should i avoid while taking this medicine?

6. when you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, ask: is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed? a study found that 88 percent of medicine errors involved the wrong drug or the wrong dose.

7. if you have any questions about the directions, ask. for example, ask if "four doses daily" means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

8. ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your liquid medicine. research shows that many people do not understand the right way to measure liquid medicines. for example, many use household teaspoons, which often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid. special devices, like marked syringes, help people to measure the right dose. being told how to use the devices helps even more.

9. ask for written information about side effects.

hospital stays

10. if you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need. research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.

11. consider asking all health care workers who have direct contact with you whether they have washed their hands.

12. when you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home. this includes learning about your medicines and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities.


13. if you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done.

doing surgery at the wrong site is rare, but is 100 percent preventable. the american academy of orthopaedic surgeons urges its members to sign their initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.

other steps

14. speak up if you have concerns.

15. make sure someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care. this is especially important if you have many health problems or are in a hospital.

16. make sure that all health professionals involved in your care have important health information about you. do not assume everyone knows everything they need to.

17. ask a family member or friend to be there with you and to speak up for you if you can't.

18. know that "more" is not always better. it is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. you could be better off without it.

19. if you have a test, don't assume that no news is good news. ask about results.

20. learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.

for example, treatment recommendations based on the latest scientific evidence are available from the national guidelines clearinghouse™ at www.guideline.gov. ask your doctor if your treatment is based on the latest evidence.

a slightly expanded version of these tips is available online at www.ahrq.gov/consumer/#quality

source: u.s. agency for health care research and quality.

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canoehead has 30 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in ER.

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When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, ask: Is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed?

If you actually ask this question of a professional be prepared to duck.

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Are you a credible source? Add your Credentials, Experience, etc.

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Here's a sneaky way to double-check without offending anyone. The pharmacy staff at my drug store do not know that I'm in school, and I just play dumb...example:

Last week, dropping off a prescription:

Me: "what does this say? Cephalexin?"

Pharm. Tech: "yes it does"

Me: "that's an antibiotic, right?"

PT: "yes it is"

Me: "ok, thanks, how often does he want me to take it?"

PT: "Xmg twice a day" (I've already asked the doc all of this and I am double checking)

Me: "thank you!"

PT: "you're welcome"

That way I know as she's typing it in, she's mindful of what it is. And nobody gets offended! LOL

When I get the bottle, the label describes the pills which is sooo helpful: ("Cephalexin is a red capsule with the numbers xxxxx on the side") I love that they've started doing that.

My friend's son was almost killed when they were given Klonopin instead of Klonodine (sp?), so I've been particularly aware ever since. Med errors are so easy to make, but also easy to prevent with a little check and balance.

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