The Top 4 Medication Errors Your Patients are Making


The problems your patients have-what you can do about it.

Part of keeping patients safe includes anticipating the mistakes that patients make.

Luminer, a company specializing in product labeling, recently conducted a survey to find out what kinds of mistakes patients are making with their medications. The survey is based on 100 participants and included patients using OTC and prescription medications. The average age of the respondents was 43, and the participants were 34% male and 66% female.

Here are the four most common medication mistakes noted in the survey, and what you can do to fight them.

Up next: How common is instruction confusion?



4. Taking a risk on confusing instructions

The problem

Sixty-five percent of patients reported feeling confusion over medication instructions. You know how many patients come to you with questions, but have you ever stopped to wonder how many didn’t even bother to ask?

According to Luminer, of the patients who were confused about instruction, only 60% actually asked their doctor or pharmacist to clarify. Twenty-nine percent just went ahead and took the medication, even if they were not sure they were taking it correctly.

What you can do

Become a better communicator. Make yourself available for questions. It’s tough to be open and inviting when the pharmacy is packed with customers, but there are ways to do it. Provide your phone number and email for a patient to contact you with questions. Include some helpful websites on your pharmacy’s website. Make sure any instructions you give are clear-consider this helpful list of tools designed to help you promote health literacy.



3. Not being aware of counterfeit drugs

The problem

Counterfeit drugs are a real and dangerous problem. WHO estimates that in developed countries, the incidence of counterfeit drugs is less than 1%, but, 1% can still be a large amount of medications. A Pfizer-sponsored study found that western Europeans spend more than $14 billion every year on illegally sourced drugs, many of them counterfeit. Most counterfeit drugs are purchased over the internet, but they can occasionally make their way into hospital and community pharmacies.

A large number of patients (54%) reported that they do not check if their medications are counterfeit, which can expose them to risk.

What you can do

You already do everything to make sure that the medicines you are dispensing are safe and effective, so let your patients know that. Many counterfeit drugs come from unsafe sources like the internet. Help those in your community know what to look for when buying medication. Let them know that you are a source for safe medication and information.


2. Problems with medication packaging

The problem

Beyond having difficulty understanding a drug’s labeling, many patients have trouble just opening the package. Sixty-one percent of respondents reported having difficulty opening a container package, while 24% reported that a tablet/pill broke or crumpled when removed from packaging and 23% reported that pills would spill out the container. More alarmingly, 8% reported getting containers mixed up and taking the wrong medication.

What you can do

Take time to understand the problems your patients are having with their drugs. If the packaging is confusing in any way, consider giving a brief tutorial at the counter. If you can, change the type of packaging to make it easier for that patient. Take the time to learn all you can about a device and learn how to teach patients to use it-even if the instructions are confusing.

Additionally, you can rely on new label-making techniques. Luminer President Tom Spina says that improvements are being made in label-making to allow labels that consist of several pages, which allows for more information and instructions in the same amount of space. Drug manufacturer’s labels no longer rely on a human proofreader, but on machines that now check each label for accuracy and consistency. This ensures that patients have the information they need.


1. Taking unintended prescriptions

The problem

Thirty-one percent of participants said that they had taken prescription drugs that were not prescribed for them. Some of this was drug abuse by those seeking a high, but for others, the problem was due to misinformation or not following instructions. Taking the wrong medications or taking them inappropriately are linked to the opioid crisis and the over-prescription of antibiotics.

What you can do

What can you do about the teenager who finds their parent’s opioidsor the person who stops taking antibiotics early and then gives the rest to friend? You can control, to a large extent, who you give drugs to, but what happens to drugs that are already out there?

The answer, again, is patient education. You know the dangers of an unintended person taking the prescription you’re filling-but does your patient? Tell them in a that they can understand. Teach them how to store their drugs safely. Make sure they know the importance of taking what they are given at the proper time. You can’t control what your patients do, but you can control what they know when they leave your pharmacy. 


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