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Avoiding Medication Errors

Avoiding Medication Errors

By Michael Judd

 A registered pharmacist with a master's in business administration, Judd is director of the Pharmacy at Cayuga Medical Center and also has extensive retail pharmacy experience.

Hospitals around the country are initiating patient-education programs to raise awareness about the ways in which we can all work together to reduce medical errors.

In the realm of medical errors, those related to medication are most common. A report issued by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine indicated that tens of thousands of people die annually in this country from medication errors. These errors occur at home, at the hospital, and even at the pharmacy. Reducing these errors is critically important and it requires that everyone play a role.

What are hospitals doing to reduce medication errors?

In the spring of 2008, Cayuga Medical Center upgraded its PYXIS system. PYXIS is a secure, automated drug-dispensing system-accessed by password and fingerprint-that ensures timely delivery of medications from the pharmacy to the nurses who administer them to patients. This system allows hospital pharmacists to focus more time on patient care and patient-safety issues. Our pharmacists are on the floors daily to talk with doctors and nurses, which helps assure proper dosage and utilization of medications. We discuss possible drug interactions, and drug and disease-state interactions. Our pharmacists monitor patient lab tests so we can help physicians adjust medications accordingly. We answer questions on chemical compatibility and whether certain drugs can or cannot be mixed together in the same syringe.

What can the patient do to help?

Bring a complete list of your current prescriptions with you when you are admitted to the hospital. Indicate the drug name, the dosage, how many times a day you take it, and the condition for which you are taking it. Also bring a list of your medication and food allergies, if you have any, as well as a list of your vitamins and supplements.

What about medication safety at home?

One of the most important steps you can take is to establish a relationship with one pharmacist. I recommend that you find a pharmacist you feel comfortable talking with because your pharmacist is typically the last health care professional you will see before you begin taking your new medicine. Your pharmacist will answer any and all questions you have about your medication so don't be shy about asking.

Have your pharmacist fill all of your prescriptions. If you use various different pharmacies, your medication record at any one of them is likely to be incomplete. Pharmacists can often pick up on problems before they occur-such as drug interactions and duplication- but they can only identify those problems when they have a complete record of your medications.

Before you start taking new medication, be sure you understand why you are taking it, what its potential side effects are, and what you should do if you experience side effects. Find out what to do if you miss a dose and what time of day you should take it. How long will you be on the medication? Where and how should you store it? Always ask questions. If you think you won't remember the answers, jot them down. Be an informed consumer. Know as much as you can about your illness and about the medication you are taking for it. If you have remaining questions, it's always a good idea to contact your doctor for further clarification.

Who is at highest risk for medication errors?

Medication errors occur most frequently among seniors. They typically take the most medication and they often see different specialists. Older people also don't metabolize drugs as well as younger people, which can lead to buildup of medicine in the body that can cause toxic effects. Sometimes seniors who live alone take their medicine twice by mistake, or they forget to take it altogether. These are issues families need to address together, and your pharmacist can be a resource for solutions.

As a community service, Cayuga Medical Center pharmacists periodically hold "brown bags" at senior housing sites in Tompkins County. Participants bring all of their medications in a brown paper bag to the scheduled site, where a pharmacist reviews the meds to make sure there is no doubling up from prescriptions written by different doctors. You can schedule a brown bag event by calling Cayuga Medical Center Community Relations at 274-4498.

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