Simple Strategies to Avoid Medication Errors

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Doctors are notorious for having bad handwriting. Making matters worse, many common medications have similar names Accupril and Accutane, Lovastatin and Lotensin, Prilosec and Prozac to name but a few.

Bad handwriting plus confusing drug names can cause big trouble. Real-life example: A doctor wrote an order for 2 milligrams (mg) of the blood pressure drug Cardura on a patient’s hospital chart. But the pharmacist read the doctor’s scrawl as 2 mg of the anticoagulant Coumadin.

Luckily for this patient, a nurse caught this potentially lethal error and called the doctor, who cleared things up. Of course, not every nurse is as vigilant.

How does one guard against such errors? I put that question to Diane D. Cousins, RPh, a prescribing error expert with the US Pharmacopeia, the nonprofit organization that sets national drug standards. She said that each time a doctor writes a prescription for you, insist that he/she write legibly and…

  • Avoid use of Latin words and abbreviations for drug names and directions for use.
  • Include a brief notation of the drug’s purpose.
  • Include your age and weight.
  • Specify dosages using metric values (grams, milligrams, etc.) or international units (IU) instead of the old-fashioned apothecary terms (drams, minims, etc.).
  • Write a zero before a decimal point (for fractional doses) but not a zero after a decimal point. For example, 0.5 mg instead of .5 mg, but 3 mg instead of 3.0 mg.

Please take the time to see that your doctor complies. It just might save your life.

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