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
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.
are hospitals doing to reduce medication errors?
In the spring of 2008, Cayuga
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
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.
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
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.