Medications: Prescribing Errors

Tragic errors can be made in prescribing medications.1

“Studies have shown that 15% to 21% of prescriptions contain at least one prescribing error.” 2

Sometimes the doctor doesn’t remember your drug allergies; sometimes he’s not considering the other drugs you are on; sometimes the doctor’s handwriting is poor; many times the doctor isn’t recalling the right dosage and frequency for the medication he’s prescribing.

In one medical study, mistakes in dosing (the strength of the medication) caused 54% of the errors, and mistakes in the frequency (how often to take the medication) caused 18% of the errors made by doctors in prescribing medicines. 1

Sometimes, having the doctor call in the prescription produces errors more often because some drugs “sound like” others and some dosages are misunderstood over the phone.

Errors made in prescribing medications can be hard for the patient to avoid. But there are definite steps that you can take to protect yourself:

  • As you are receiving a new prescription from your doctor, remind him of any drug allergy you may have.
  • Before you leave the doctor’s office, make sure that you can clearly read the name and dosage of the medication on your prescription. If you can’t then ask the doctor for the spelling and dosage and write it down on a notepad.

Pharmacists hate to have to guess about what medication that the doctor is prescribing, but pharmacists also seem to get a lot of grief from some doctors when they call to get clarification. 3 It’s easier if you just just make sure yourself before you leave the doctor’s office. Don’t skip this step! If you’re feeling uncomfortable, blame it on your pharmacy. “How do you spell this? I want to make sure the pharmacy gives me the right medicine”. Just get it done.

“In our study of adverse drug events in outpatient care, most of the preventable events were due to prescribing errors.” 1

“Lines of communication between the pharmacist and the physician are fragmented as a result of the pharmacist’s hesitancy to contact physicians and because of physician inaccessibility.” 3

Studies, Footnotes and Research:

  1. Gandhi, Tejal K., Saul N. Weingart, and Joshua Borus et al. “Adverse Drug Events in Ambulatory Care.” New England Journal of Medicine 348(16) (2003): 1556-1564.
  2. Gandhi, Tejal K., Saul N. Weingart, and Andrew C. Segar et al. “Outpatient Prescribing Errors and the Impact of Computerized Prescribing.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 20 (2005): 837-841.
  3. Brown, C. Andrew, Jessica H. Bailey, Joshua Lee, Paula K. Garrett and William J. Rudman. “The Pharmacist-Physician Relationship in the Detention of Ambulatory Medication Errors.” American Journal of the Medical Sciences 331(1) (2006): 22-24.

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