According to CNBC medication errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, only falling behind heart disease and cancer. Seems a little absurd, doesn’t it? The third leading cause of death is due to something that is preventable. If that’s the case, then why is this such a dilemma in our nation?
Some of these errors are happening in hospitals because healthcare professionals may give the wrong dosage or wrong medication to their patient. However, it is not fair for us to just point our fingers at the healthcare field and tell them to fix the problem. As the saying goes, point one finger and there will be three pointing back at you.
According to Poison Control, the National Capital Poison Center, in 2012 more than 296,000 people called to say that they had taken the wrong medication. Some of the more common calls included issues like, “I took my wife’s medication instead of mine because I couldn’t tell them apart,” and “I think I took my medication twice today.”
It’s a hard day when we realize that we aren’t as perfect as we thought we were. Unfortunately, that is the case in this situation. Let’s face it… life is HARD. We forget things that we think we never would. Where are my car keys again? What did I come into this room for? Most days it is something as small as misplacing the car keys or our cellphones (I found my cellphone in my lunchbox the other day. We all do it. It’s just part of being human.) However, sometimes we forget important details.
Have you ever forgotten to take your medication before bed? I’ll own up to it and say that I did this just last week with not one, but two different medications. Life gets crazy and it just slips our minds before drifting off into sleep. It might not seem like that big of a deal at the time, but what if it was a blood pressure pill that you forgot to take? Or maybe even a chemotherapy pill? Let’s take it up a notch… let’s pretend you are supposed to take your blood pressure pill twice a day and your chemotherapy pill once a day. Both pills are an ivory color and are remarkably close in size. But, you’d never mix those up because you have the memory of an elephant, right?
That’s what we can hope. But, on that cloudy Wednesday, work had stressed you out so much that you even forgot to eat dinner (that’s another topic for horrible things to forget…can you say hangry?). And your puppy thought your shoe was the bathroom…how lovely. So, you are finally crawling into bed to forget the horrible day when you remember that you still need to take another blood pressure pill—and let’s face it, you really needed it after the day you just had. So, you head to your medicine cabinet and thoughtlessly grab your blood pressure pill. It’s part of your daily routine, therefore, not much thought goes into it.
Instead, you accidentally grabbed your chemotherapy pill that you had already taken that morning. Now, you have taken two chemotherapy pills and only one blood pressure pill. Your body is confused and isn’t entirely sure what to do with this extra dose of chemo. Likewise, your blood pressure won’t lower over night like normal.
Now, I know this is a dramatic situation, but it is very realistic. If it only happens one time, then sure, it might be fine. However, all of our bodies are different. Which means that one of us might have to go to the ER for difficult breathing and an irregular heartbeat because we didn’t get that extra blood pressure medication. Whereas, another one of us might just go to sleep and never notice the mistake we made. There’s a catch though, what if you’re totally fine the first night and then keep accidentally making the same mistake. In the long run, there will be consequences. The FDA estimates that roughly 1.3 million people are injured each year from medication errors. And that is just in the United States. I’d prefer we didn’t add to that number.
Let’s fix this issue with easy organization tools—I know my fellow Type A personalities are excited!
If you’re a person that takes multiple vitamins and medications a day, then you understand the struggle of keeping them organized. Bringing all four, five, or even six pill bottles with you throughout day is a lot to manage. Can I say, clean up in aisle 7?
Pill organizers are the ideal tool to prevent you from juggling six pill bottles a day. I am going to be a little biased here and suggest the GMS Vitanizer, which has six different compartments to store your medications. However, there are numerous pill organizers out there, therefore, the most important thing is that it works for you! Always, always, always, do your own research…should I say ‘always’ once more just for emphasis? Check if the lids close securely to prevent them from spilling out into the bottom of your purse or bag…is that my pill or a piece of candy down there? Likewise, check if the container comes with labels if you have more than one pill that looks similar. If you’re going to have a pill organizer, make sure to utilize it to the full potential.
Write A List
Sometimes organization can be as simple as taking a post-it note and writing things down. Grab your pen and list all the medications that you are currently taking. Be sure to include the dosages and frequency to ensure that there is no uncertainty later on. This little list is helpful when you go see your healthcare professional and they ask you what medications you are currently on. Uh…. I don’t know… the one that starts with the “S”? However, the tricky thing with the hand-written list is that you need to be sure to update it every time you go see your healthcare professional. If you forget one day, then you might make an error the next time you go to check your note because the information will be outdated.
Having A Caregiver
If you aren’t as Type A as me and aren’t a fan of list making, then find someone that can hold you accountable. You could hire a caregiver to be around the house during the certain times of day to ensure that you are taking the correct medications. However, if you don’t want to pay someone, a friend would work just fine! Sometimes you just need that extra set of eyes on you to make you be a little more cautious.
This may sound obvious, but don’t forget to ask your healthcare professional questions! There’s another classic saying, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you need some clarification about your medication, do not hesitate to call someone about it. Even if you feel like you might know the answer but aren’t entirely sure still ask because it has the potential to turn into a serious problem.
Linked below are some helpful articles that I used if you would like to learn more. As always, if you have any questions about your medication management please reach out via the comments, social media, or email. I will be here to guide you on your health journey!
Columbus, C. (2017, July 12). More People Are Making Mistakes With Medicines At Home. Retrieved April 25, 2019, [Go To NPR]
Godman, H. (2018, July 16). Medication errors a big problem after hospital discharge. Retrieved April 25, 2019, from [Go To Harvard Health]
P. (n.d.). Medication Errors. Retrieved April 25, 2019, [Go To Poison Control]
Sipherd, R. (2018, February 28). The third-leading cause of death in America most doctors don’t want you to know about. Retrieved April 25, 2019, [Go To CNBC]