Home > Blog

How To Avert Deadly Medication Mix-ups

By Carissa Andrews  •   May 12, 2015

Medication errors can occur anywhere a medication is in the hands of a human. Sometimes, these errors can have dire consequences. Medication mistakes affect 1.5 million Americans or more every year, and according to the Institute of Medicine, at least a quarter of the errors are preventable. A key component is taking responsibility for your health and communicating with the doctors involved in your care.

While medication errors can happen on all levels, we have some tips for the top three ways they could affect you.

Avert Mix-ups at Hospital Level

Researched published in the Journal of Patient Safety, estimated that hospital medical errors contribute to the deaths of between 210,000 and 440,000 patients. The exact number of those deaths related to medication errors isn’t clearly known. One thing is for sure; being vigilant about your medications can save your life. Here are some ways you can take control of your prescription process while you’re under the care of hospital staff.

• Know the medications you’re taking.

Know the names of all the medications, herbal supplements, vitamins, etc. you are taking. Be sure to relay that information to your healthcare provider before being treated with any other medications.

• Share your allergies.

If you have any medications you are allergic to, be sure to let the hospital know. Adverse reactions to medications can be prevented if you know what your body can’t handle.

• Know what the hospital wants to give you and why.

Clearly you’re in the hospital for a reason. If you are to be given new medications, know what they are and why they are being given. Keep track of how often you’re getting them, too. Hospitals have switchovers in nursing and doctor staff and not every record is updated in real-time.

• Have a hospital buddy.

Even if you’re completely in control of your faculties, having someone with you during a hospitalization can save your life. They may catch a medication dosage problem, duplicate, or error for you.

Avert Mix-ups at Pharmacy Level

Pharmacies are busy places. Not to mention, they see hundreds of medications going in and out each day. While every pharmacist wants what’s best for you, errors do happen. Especially when they’re trying to decipher illegible writing. Here are some ways to keep pharmacy errors at bay.

• Know the new medication you’ve been prescribed.

This one is crucial. To err is human, and goodness knows when trying to decipher a doctor’s scribbles, even the best pharmacist could make a mistake. Know both brand and generic names of your medication, dosage, directions for use, storage and expiration date, and of course, what it is meant to be treating.

• Have your prescription sent electronically.

Rather than the old-fashioned method of bringing the prescription in to the pharmacy, have your doctor call, fax, or electronically submit your prescription to your pharmacy of choice. This will cut down on those decipher issues. If it must be hand-written, make sure you can read the prescription so your pharmacist will be able to as well.

• Be upfront.

Tell your pharmacist all the prescription and over the counter medications you are taking.

• Reviews are essential.

Ask your pharmacist to review the medications you are taking at least once a year. Ask about potential side effects or adverse reactions that could occur between the prescriptions you use.

• Check your labels.

Before you walk out the door, be sure to check the label on your prescription and even open the bottle and double check the medication, too. A little vigilance before you leave could save you a lot of trouble down the road.

• Use the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions.

This may not seem like a big deal, but if you use the same pharmacy for all of your medications, they will have a history of what you take. By building a relationship with your pharmacist, they are more capable (and likely) to give you the right medications, and/or bring up any issues in the interactions between your medications.

Avert Mix-ups Between Family Members

We all have busy households. When it comes to medication safety, it doesn’t matter if it’s just you and your spouse, or a whole brood. If multiple people in your household take prescription drugs, you can take some very simple steps to keep everyone safe.

• Store medications in different locations.

Or in completely different containers that separate them from another family member’s medications.

• Don’t separate them out.

While pill organizers seem like a good idea, it can cause medication confusion. It’s best to keep your medicines in their original pharmacy containers so you can double check which drug they are and who they’re intended for each and every time you take them.

• Label pill organizers.

If your family chooses to use them, make sure they are clearly labeled or color-coded.

• Be familiar with the appearance of your medications.

Knowing the size, shape, and color of your medications could save you from a trip to the hospital, or something much worse. Pay attention to what your medications look like, and be present and focused when you’re taking them.

Basic Medication Safety at Home

Staying safe at home is essential. Here are a few tips to consider when medications are in the home.

• Never share.

To avoid serious health problems, do not share your prescribed medication with someone else, nor should you use medication prescribed for someone else.

• Out of reach.

Do keep your medications out of the reach of children.

• Throw them out.

Be sure to check out your medicine cabinet and discard medications that are expired or unwanted.

• Unmixy.

Some medications should not be mixed with food or alcohol. Be sure you understand the directions of your prescription and take your medications exactly as prescribed.

Remember, when it comes to your body and avoiding medication mix-ups – the buck stops with you. Knowledge is always power, so keep on top of your medications and their interactions with each other. WebMD has a great interaction calculator, in case you’re curious about the drugs you’re already using – or to see what a new medication might interact with. You’re the only one with a vested interest in your own health, and that includes your medications. While others obviously want what’s best, you’re the one in charge of your health and what you put into your body. Make sure you’re doing what’s right.


is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.


The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.