By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

Q: I seem to be reading and hearing more and more about medication errors lately. Those errors appear to happen in many ways at home and at health care facilities. Do you have any safety tips?

A: Let’s start at the doctor’s office. First make sure all of your doctors know about everything you are taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and dietary or herbal supplements.

Also make sure your doctor knows about allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medications. If you have allergies you might consider wearing a medic alert bracelet and carrying a card in your wallet with the information.

If your doctor writes a new prescription for you, make sure you can read the writing. Be sure you understand the medication’s purpose and how and when to take it.

Ask what side effects might occur and what you should do if they occur. Question whether taking a new medication is safe if you are taking other medications including vitamins, herbals and over-the-counter items. Also ask whether certain food, beverages or activities should be avoided.

Last, ask what you should do if you miss taking a scheduled dose.

You should use just one pharmacy. If you do so, your medication history can be reviewed each time a new prescription is added.

When you pick up a new prescription, ask the pharmacist to check whether it is what the doctor prescribed. Also ask whether there is any written information about possible side effects.

Before leaving the pharmacy, read the label on the container. Is the information provided in terms you understand, and does it agree with what your doctor told you? If there is anything you don’t understand, ask the pharmacist to explain.

If you live in an assisted- care facility that manages your medications, always ask the person dispensing your medications to check the container labels to make sure the medication is prescribed for you.

If you are in the hospital, it is always helpful to have a friend or family member present to observe and ask questions. You should ask for a printed list of all medications, the doses and how often you must take them.

Every time you get a medication, you or your observer should check it against the list to make sure the drug is meant for you and not your roommate. Insist that the person giving you the medication call you by name and check your ID bracelet to ensure the medication is yours.

Be wary of changes. For example, if you have been receiving a small orange pill once a day and all of a sudden you are given a second dose later in the day or if a different medication is introduced, ask if the orders were changed, why and by whom. Make sure the drug is for you.


Just a reminder: Open enrollment for Medicare enrollees to change their health care coverage for 2012 extends through Dec. 7. The plans you are enrolled in Dec. 7 will be the coverage you have for 2012. One-stop shops provide help with selecting Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for 2012. For information and locations, call 800-434-0222. Some locations are:

Today: One-stop shop at the Area Agency on Aging Office, 646 County Square Drive, Ventura from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Thursday: One-stop shop at the Camarillo Health Care District, 3639 E. Las Posas Road, Suite 117, Camarillo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are located at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362 or call 495-6250 or email (please include your telephone number.) You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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