According to Consumer Affairs*, an estimated 7,000 deaths due to incorrect prescriptions occur each year. These are staggering statistics. And yes, I have caught a pharmacist making a very big mistake. Our son Nick was supposed to get 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of medicine, and the label said for him to give him 1 ml. That’s 5 times less than what he was supposed to receive! I remembered what the doctor had prescribed, looked at the little bottle they gave me and wondered how he was supposed to get 30 teaspoons of this stuff. That’s when I realized the mistake.
I am no stranger to having to administer many medications. Our son Nick has been taking prescription medications since his birth and received a kidney transplant on August 15, 2000. Since then, I have been responsible for administering those life-saving medications. There’s not much more stressful than knowing you just can’t miss a medication or give the wrong amount. I can almost do it with my eyes closed now. But when I started I had no idea what questions I should ask, what supplies I should have on hand, or how to stay organized so I don’t make a mistake.
Over the last 14 years, I have seen mistakes made and I have made some myself. This article is about what I have learned along the way. It should not be construed as medical advice, but as personal opinion. Check with your own doctor and pharmacist to make sure that he is doing everything necessary to avoid medication errors.
Starting at the Doctor’s Office
It all starts here. There are several questions that you must be prepared to answer and several questions that you must be prepared to ask. Each of them is extremely important. Keep a journal. Take it with you to all medical appointments.
Questions you will need to answer
Patient medical history: It is a good idea to keep a diary of the patient’s medical history. This should include current and past illnesses and/or medical conditions, surgeries, current and past medications, any food or drug allergies. When you visit the doctor, a nurse will ask you several questions that will help the doctor. Keeping a journal will ensure that you don’t leave anything out.
Family medical history: It is also very important that you know your family medical history. I realize that sometimes adoption is involved and it just isn’t possible. But whenever possible, get family medical history from both sides of the family (maternal and paternal). So if you’re going to take your child to the doctor, you’ll want to know both your side of the family and your child’s parent’s side of the family.
Current Medication List – When you visit the doctor, you will be asked for a list of current medications, including dosage. It’s much easier to keep a list and give it to the nurse taking the information than it is to try to remember everything on the spot. I like to use index cards written in pencil. The cards hold up well, you can erase with a pencil, and you can keep the card with your medications when you’re not using it at the doctor’s office.
Look at the medicine bottle(s) and write down the name of the medicine, how much (volume) you are giving, and how many mg. per unit. This way the doctor will know the exact amount that is being taken. For example, if a prescription has 1 mg per mL and you are dispensing 5 mL, the doctor will know that the patient is receiving 5 mg.
Questions to ask the doctor. Write down what the doctor says!
When you are prescribed a new medication, there are several things you need to know. You’ll want to compare what the doctor tells you to what the medicine bottle says when you pick it up at the pharmacy.
As you talk to your doctor about filling a new prescription, write down the name, the volume to be given, and the total mg per dose to be given: The bottle probably says something like 1 mg/cc. If you’re new to this, or not good at math, ask your doctor what exactly the bottle you’ll receive should say. For example, if Nick receives 5 mg of prednisolone every other day and there is 1 mg. per ml, then he should receive 5 ml of the drug for a total of Suhagra 100mg. every other day
1mg/ml X 5ml = 5mg.
Brand Name vs. Generic Name: If a prescription doesn’t say “no substitutions,” chances are you’ll be getting the generic version of that drug. Ask the doctor what that name would be.