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How to catch prescription errors before they cause harm

The process of obtaining medication involves a lot of steps between the time your doctor writes a prescription (or, more likely, enters it into a system) and the time you get it from the pharmacy. There are numerous safeguards to help ensure that prescriptions are filled correctly. However, things can always go wrong.

Everything from poor handwriting on a written prescription to an added zero typed on a computer can cause a patient to get the wrong medication or the wrong dosage. While there are safeguards within the pharmaceutical industry designed to prevent errors, pharmacists and other employees are still human. They can put the wrong drugs in a container and not catch the error. They can also give a patient someone else’s medication by mistake.

Typically, when patients are getting refills, they know what their medication looks like and notice if it looks different than usual. With a new prescription, however, they likely don’t know what it’s supposed to look like. While a description of the medication isn’t required to be on the label, many pharmacies do include it as an added safeguard. Yet, many patients don’t know to keep an eye out for this precautionary measure.

What should you look for?

Certainly, all of those involved in the process of prescribing and dispensing medication have a responsibility to provide the correct medication, and they can potentially be held liable if their error or negligence causes harm. However, patients can help protect themselves by ensuring that they have the proper medication and dosage before they take the first dose of a newly-filled prescription.

First, when you receive the medication, look at the label (before you leave, if you’re picking it up). Make sure your name is the one on it. Confirm that it’s the right medication and dosage. Both should also be on the documentation you get with the medication.

If there’s a description, make sure it matches the medication. If there’s no description, you can do a quick Google search or use one of any number of apps that provide close-up photos. You can go to the app store on your phone to download one. The Rx Prescription app, Smart Pill ID and Pill Identifier and Drug List are just a few. A quick Google search can also provide images of medications. If you have concerns, voice them before you leave.

With that said, even conscientious patients can suffer harm through no fault of their own. If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a medication error that was the fault of a doctor, pharmacist or another medical professional, it’s wise to learn about your legal options as soon as you can.