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Confused Patient is about to make medication mistakes

Medication Mistakes at Home: The Hidden Killer – How to Avoid Taking the Wrong Dose

A brief Google search involving the term”medication mistakes” inevitably provides you with hundreds of thousands of results. Most of these pages relate to medication blunders committed in hospitals or care homes, but we hear far less about these errors at home. Although doctors and nurses occasionally make mistakes, a patient is far more likely to make an error at home. Unlike in a hospital where there is a team of physicians available to help, a seemingly simple mistake in the comfort of your home could have dire consequences.

Medication Mistakes at Home on the Rise

The American Association of Poison Control Centers looked at data on over 67,000 exposures to medication errors that occurred outside health care facilities, including incidents that resulted in “serious medical outcomes.” The data is from 2000 to 2012 and showed that the number of errors was 1.73 per 100,000 people in 2012, more than double the amount in 2000. Here are the medical outcomes followed by their frequency:

  • Moderate Effect: 93.5%
  • Major Effect: 5.8%
  • Death: 0.6%

Frequent errors included taking the wrong dose, administering or taking incorrect medication, or taking the drug twice by accident. Here are the types of medication most frequently associated with serious outcomes:

  • Cardiovascular Drugs: 20.6%
  • Analgesics: 12%
  • Hormones/Hormone Antagonists: 11%

The study only looks at a small sample of mistakes; the FDA believes that over 1.3 million Americans suffer injury (or worse) each year due to medication mistakes at home. As well as errors in terms of packaging, dispensing, and monitoring, other problems include poor techniques and a patient’s lack of understanding surrounding the drug and/or the administering of the drug.

More worrying is the significant increase in serious medical outcomes after making a medication mistake. Such events are occasions where the patient is in a potentially life-threatening situation. In 2000, the study said there were 3,065 such situations, but the figure doubled to 6,855 in 2012; during the 13-year period in the study, 414 people died. If we extrapolate the data from the study to include the 1.3 million people who suffer after making a medication mistake, the death toll increases to over 80,000. Clearly, this figure doesn’t come from exact calculations, but it is worrying nonetheless.

In terms of symptoms, the most common issues experienced by those on the wrong end of a medication mistake included low blood pressure, exceptionally fast or slow heart rate, vertigo, and drowsiness. Approximately 33% of patients went to a medical facility and were subsequently treated and released. However, 17% ended up in a critical care/intensive care unit while 15%went to a noncritical care unit.

What Has Caused the Increase in Errors?

As mentioned above, cardiovascular drugs are involved in the highest percentage of errors. During the study period, the number of mistakes involving these types of drugs doubled. However, the number of errors involving hormones and hormone antagonists, used for diabetes, went up by over 200%. The number of people taking these drugs is increasing rapidly, so it makes sense that the amount of errors are also rising at a similar rate.

The statistics surrounding the impact medication errors have on children are especially worrying. Every eight minutes, a parent or caregiver commits a medication mistake that affects a child. Errors are common in schools and daycares where children accidentally receive the wrong medication, or two doses in quick succession.

How Can You Prevent Medication Mistakes?

Unquestionably, drug manufacturers and pharmacists have a role to play. There is room for improvement when it comes to the labeling and packaging of products. It is also important to ensure that dosing instructions are clearer, especially for patients with limited reading or math abilities.

If you take more than one medication, it is worth investing in a pillbox. If you already have one, purchase a lock for it and keep it away from children. In most cases, locks of this nature are more child-resistant than child-proof, so although they buy some time, safe storage should still be the top priority.

When it comes to your children, keep as close an eye on them as possible to ensure they don’t take the wrong medication or double dose. Caregivers and parents should also consider keeping a written log that outlines the drug, dosage, and the time the patient received it. This simple tactic will significantly reduce the instances of double dosing and the intake of incorrect medication.


If you have any questions about the medication you’re taking at home, get in touch with the nearest poison control center. When it comes to taking your prescription drugs while you are away from a medical facility, being safe always beats being sorry!

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