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5 Simple Steps to Avoid Medication Mistakes

Taking medications correctly is important to ensure they’re effective for what they were prescribed. It also keeps you safe from interactions or other adverse events. So how do you avoid making medication mistakes?

What Are Common Medication Mistakes?

Medication mistakes can come in several shapes and sizes. They can be as minor as not taking a medication with food when the label says to do so, or as worrying as an accidental overdose. Other medication mistakes include:

  • Crushing a pill that should be taken whole
  • Storing meds at the wrong temperature
  • Taking the wrong dose, or taking medication at the wrong time
  • Taking medications that shouldn’t be taken together
  • Eating foods that interact with your medication

Mistakes can often happen by accident, and are especially common if you take multiple medications, also known as polypharmacy. Fortunately, simple medication management solutions can ensure you’re taking your meds properly and safely.

Read the Label

Let’s face it: when was the last time you double checked the directions on Tylenol or Sudafed?  Or if you take prescription medication, how many things were you thinking about when your doctor prescribed a new regimen at your last visit? 

Whether it’s your first or hundredth time taking a medication, it’s best to give the label a quick glance to avoid the adverse effects of medication mistakes. 

The manufacturer could have changed the formulation, or new research could show a potential interaction with a supplement you take. A prescription label might even carry a drowsiness warning. At the very least, it’s your opportunity to verify that you are following doctor’s orders, and to double-check the instructions for use.

Know Why You're Taking Them

Many prescribed drugs have a variety of applications. Antidepressants, for instance, are typically used to treat depression and anxiety, but they’re also used in the treatment of ADHD, fibromyalgia, menopause symptoms, migraines and more. When your doctor has you take a medication to treat something other than for what it was originally intended, as in this example, it’s known as “off-label” prescribing. By knowing what your prescribed medication is meant to treat, you can keep better track of how you’re feeling and report your health progress to your healthcare providers.

The same goes for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. While aspirin is mostly used for pain relief and fever reduction, your doctor may tell you to take it to prevent a heart attack or stroke. It’s important not to start taking something off-label, as it’s called, without talking to your doctor first. In the case of aspirin, if you’re already on a prescription blood thinner, taking aspirin daily without consulting your doctor could put you at risk for hemorrhaging.

Use a Proper Storage Method

Ironically, the medicine cabinet is the last place you want to store important meds. Big swings in temperature or humidity can make medications less effective, and it’s incredibly hard to control either in your bathroom. Rather, selecting a storage method should depend on both needs and preferences. If one medication needs to be kept cold, keep it in the fridge. If temperature is not an issue, you can store meds in their original pill bottles and packaging, or in pill boxes, monthly pill organizers or automatic pill dispensers.

While each option requires some degree of manual pill sorting, automated methods reduce the chances of human error. A locking pill box can even keep your meds secure from others in your home. On the other hand, a monthly organizer might be best if you take a variety of pills daily and travel regularly. If you need both a storage solution and pill reminders, consider an automatic pill dispenser to manage your medication routine.

Keep a List and Medication Guide

Whether you prefer to keep a paper list or use a medication tracking app, a handy medication guide is a smart, easy way to keep track of what you’re taking –– including OTC meds. Be sure  to include the names of all medications you’re taking, their strength or dosage, any known interactions and side effects and any important precautions.

It’s also helpful to share this list with a loved one. Having someone else know all your medications can save time in case of an emergency. For day-to-day life, that person can help you stay on track with your medications through friendly reminders, or just asking if meds seem to be improving your condition. 

Talk to Your Health Providers

Keeping a medication list also comes in handy when you’re speaking with doctors –– and filling out forms. Ideally, each doctor you see should have a full picture of what meds and supplements you’re taking, so they can prescribe new medications safely, monitor your treatment progress and keep an eye out for potential side effects or interactions. They may also be able to simplify your medication regimen, depending on your treatment plan, possible allergies and other factors like age, gender and lifestyle.

Simple Steps, Big Rewards

Not only does proper medication management help you feel good about yourself and your choices, but it can also improve your health outcomes in the long run. We hope that these simple steps can help you avoid making a medication mistake while adhering to doctors’ recommendations.

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