Jennifer Gold

Jennifer Gold

Grapefruit juice can be part of a healthful diet—most of the time. It has vitamin C and potassium—substances your body needs to work properly.

Thursday, 01 March 2012 15:32

Getting your prescription from your doctor

isc getprescriptionfromdocKnowing what type of insulin you are taking is important to ensure you have been given the correct insulin product by the pharmacist. Errors can happen when the doctor is prescribing insulin, when the pharmacy is dispensing insulin or when the nurse, patient or caregiver adminsiters it. One reason this can happen is because there are so many different insulin products available, and some even have similar names. For example, there's Humalog and Humulin and Novolog and Novolin. The insulin safety resource center will give examples of how mix-up's can happen in the prescription or dispensing phase of your treatment and ways you can best assure that corrections are made.

Getting your prescription

The discussion regarding the type of insulin you will take and how often you will require it, starts with a conversation between you and your healthcare provider and diabetes educator, so it's important to pay attention and read all written materials. Each time you visit your doctor, even if you do not expect to change your insulin type, listen closely to the discussion.

Once a medical professional has prescribed insulin, he/she will give you a prescription or send an electronic one to your pharmacy. The prescription will indicate what type of insulin the pharmacist should give you, the dosage you should take, and when you will need to take it. If an electronic prescription is sent, request a duplicate copy for your records. This way, if the wrong insulin is given to you at the pharmacy, you will be able to pick up the mistake by comparing the prescription copy to the container label.

If a written prescription is given to you at the doctor's office, make sure you can interpret the handwriting prior to leaving the office. Confirm the name of the insulin, the dosage, and how often you should take it. Document this for your records, prior to dropping off the prescription at the pharmacy.

Friday, 17 February 2012 21:40

Insulin and your lifestyle

isc foodexerciseFactors such as diet, exercise, alcohol use, and illness can affect your blood sugar.  This makes using insulin more complicated. It is important to think about how changes in diet, exercise, alcohol use, and illness may affect the amount of insulin needed to control your blood sugar.

Insulin lowers blood sugar levels. If something increases your blood sugar, you may need more insulin. It is important to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about changes in your diet, exercise, and alcohol use, and any illnesses that you experience. When people feel sick, they often do not eat very much. This means you may not need as much insulin. If you eat more, you may need more insulin. If you exercise more, you may need less insulin. If you drink more alcohol, this may cause your blood sugar to lower.

isc patientpharmacistYour doctor and pharmacist will discuss steps you need to follow to maintain good blood sugar levels. Your doctor and pharmacist will also discuss how often you will need to check your blood sugar.  Be sure to ask for guidance on how to keep good blood sugar levels and ask how often and when you should check your blood sugar.

Friday, 17 February 2012 21:37

What can go wrong?

Sometimes your blood sugar may get too low or too high.

Low blood sugar can be very dangerous.

To prevent dangerous low blood sugar, here are some important tips:

  • Check your blood sugar often.  Talk to your doctor about how often and what time of day to create your own schedule.
  • Watch out for clues
    • Low blood sugar clues include: irritability, shaky hands, being tired, confusion, headache, heart racing, sweating, pale skin, feeling nervous, cold hands and feet, mood swings, crying spells, depression.
    • Usually, blood sugar is too low if less than 70 (mg/dL).
  • Make sure friends and family also know the clues for low blood sugar. When your blood sugar gets too low, you may be too confused to remember what to do.  It's important that friends and family know when you need help fixing low blood sugar.


 If your blood sugar is less than 70 (mg/dL), OR if you have clues of low blood sugar (see above), take action!


  • Drink a glass of orange juice.
  • Drink a glass of regular soft drink or soda (NOT DIET soda).
  • Eat jelly or jam (NOT SUGAR-FREE jelly)
  • Eat candy (NOT SUGAR-FREE candy)
  • Eat 3 sugar pills.


High Blood Sugar

High blood sugar can be very dangerous also. It may take a long time for you to notice the bad effects of high blood sugar, or you may start to feel sick right away.


  • Emergency: If not treated with diet, exercise, and medicine, high blood sugar can lead to "diabetic coma" and death.
  • Long-Term Disability: If not treated with diet, exercise, and medicine, high blood sugar can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, worsening vision, blindness, loss of feeling in hands and feet, impaired healing of cuts and wounds, tingling and damaged nerves, change in bowel movements and constipation. 

To prevent dangerous high blood sugar, here are some important tips:

  • Check your blood sugar often. Talk to your doctor about how often and what time of day to create your own schedule.
  • Watch out for clues.
    • HIgh blood sugar clues include:
      • Drowsy, sleepy, tired
      • Flushed skin
      • Fruit-like breath odor
      • Frequent urination
      • Dry mouth, Dry skin
      • Loss of appetite, Stomach Ache, Nausea, Vomiting
      • Trouble breathing (rapid and deep)
      • Increased blood sugar level
      • Usually, blood sugar is too high if greater than ______ (mg/dL).
  • Make sure friends and family also know the clues for high blood sugar. When your blood sugar gets too high, you may be too confused to remember what to do.  It's important that friends and family know when you need help fixing high blood sugar.

If your blood sugar is greater than ______ (mg/dL), OR if you have clues of high blood sugar (see above), take action!


  • Call your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Develop an action plan for high blood sugar. This includes knowing how much extra insulin to take based on the blood sugar number.
Monday, 06 February 2012 19:29

Report a Medication Error

Thank you for reporting your error or medication safety concern to ISMP and Please answer the questions as completely and accurately as possible. Your answers will help us to better understand the type of errors that are happening, where and why they are happening, and how to help those people being affected.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:24

Test Feature article

Monday, 23 January 2012 22:43

U-500 Insulin Errors

img vial syringeHumulin R is the brand name for Eli Lilly's recombinant human regular insulin. The usual version of Humulin R is U-100 and contains 100 units of insulin activity per 1 milliliter of fluid. But there's also a rarely-used version called U-500. The U-500 insulin is 5 times more potent than U-100 insulin. U-500 insulin contains 500 units of insulin activity per 1 milliliter of fluid. People may need to use U-500 if their diabetes is not well-controlled with U-100. The U-500 version should be used only for patients requiring doses above 200 units a day.

Important information about U-500 insulin

Since the use of U-500 insulin is not as common as the use of U-100 insulin, some health professionals may not be aware of it. This by itself increases the chance of dispensing errors.

The main problem with U-500 insulin is the risk of a mix-up between the insulin U-100 and insulin U-500 versions. If this occurs, it can result in very dangerous low blood sugar or very high blood sugar. A mix-up between the two insulin concentrations may occur if doctors or pharmacists select the wrong concentration (for example, selecting the U-500 regular insulin from computer screen instead of U-100). Sometimes the two concentrations appear one line apart on the computer screen, which sets up the possibility of selection errors. Depending on the screen size, the prescriber may see only the first few words of the product listing, so the drug concentration is not seen. Prescribers may assume the patient needs U-100 and may not even look for the concentration on the screen.

A mix-up may also occur if U-100 insulin and U-500 insulin are stored next to each other at the pharmacy, in the hospital or even in your home. Although the colors of the vials are different, if someone is not aware to look out for the concentration on the vials, the vials could be confused for one another.

U-500 insulin syringe

As of November 2016, a new syringe to administer concentrated Humulin R U-500 (insulin regular) has been made available from the manufacturer, BD. The syringe measures U-500 insulin doses ranging from 25 units to 250 units in 5-unit segments. Prior to the release of the U-500 syringe, it was recommended to use a U-100 syringe or tuberculin syringe to administer U-500 insulin. But dosing errors frequently occurred to patients who drew doses from a vial into a U-100 or tuberculin syringe. Every unit on the U-100 syringe scale is equal to 5 units of U-500 insulin. So, a dose measuring “40” units in a U-100 syringe is really 200 units of U-500 insulin. With a tuberculin syringe, the U-500 insulin dose has to be measured in mL, not units. Both situations have led to serious insulin dosing errors.

Now that a U-500 syringe is available, a U-100 syringe or tuberculin syringe should no longer be used to administer U-500 insulin in healthcare facilities or in the home.

Humulin R U-500 is also available in a prefilled pen, which also measures the concentrated insulin in 5-unit segments. With the Humulin R U-500 KwikPen, and now with the U-500 insulin syringe, the actual dose of U-500 insulin prescribed is the actual dose that is measured in the syringe or dialed with the pen. The updated information for physicians who prescribe Humulin R U-500 now requires all prescriptions for the U-500 insulin vials to be accompanied by prescriptions for the new U-500 insulin syringes. The updated information also recommends that healthcare providers:

  • Instruct patients who use vials of U-500 to use only a U-500 insulin syringe
  • Teach patients how to correctly draw the prescribed dose into the U-500 insulin syringe
  • Confirm that the patient has understood the directions If you are uncertain how to use the new syringe, ask your pharmacist, doctor, or office nurse.

If you are uncertain how to use the new syringe, ask your pharmacist, doctor, or office nurse.

Other Recommendations

Individuals who use insulin must be aware of the concentration and insulin type that you normally use. If you see U-500 on the label when you are supposed to be getting U-100, or if the opposite is true, make sure you question your pharmacist or doctor before taking it.

Also, if another individual in your home also uses insulin that is not the same concentration as yours, store the insulin in different areas. This way you will not inadvertently grab the wrong vial.

If you are to be hospitalized and you use U-500 insulin, be sure to clarify this with the medical staff. It is recommended to bring whichever syringe you use at home to the hospital and demonstrate where you normally draw up your insulin to.

Monday, 23 January 2012 22:26

Insulin safety during a hospitalization

If you need to be hospitalized

isc patientinhospIf you are someone who requires insulin, one of the most important things you can do to stay safe is to have an emergency plan in the event you become ill and need to be hospitalized. In preparing for such an emergency, it's important to take into consideration that you may be too ill to speak for yourself at this time. Therefore, you should always designate another individual who can assist in this process, as needed.

If you are hospitalized, or admitted for any emergent situation, it will be very important for you to tell your doctor and nurse the type of insulin you take, what dose and how you are taking insulin. You should carry an updated list of all medications you take with you at all times. Ideally, it is safest to bring your medications and insulin delivery system into the hospital to prevent any misunderstandings.

It will also be helpful to inform the health care team of your recent blood sugar readings. However, keep in mind, your usual insulin requirement may change with possible illness or emergent care. Be prepared for potential changes in your insulin regimen, which may be needed during your condition and as determined by your doctor.

During your hospitalization or for emergency care, you (or whomever you have designated) will need to pay close attention to your care. Here are some additional tips to avoid errors with your insulin during hospitalization:

  • Be sure the nurse confirms your identity with two identifiers before any insulin injection. For example, calling you by your first name and checking your arm band. Never accept an insulin injection without the nurse checking you identification band or scanning it if the hospital uses bar coding. Your identification band must always be legible.
  • Have the nurse confirm the type and dose of insulin prior to injection. Also request to visualize the syringe to confirm the amount of units in the syringe.
  • Keep accurate documentation of your blood sugar results. This can serve as a double check in the event a nurse either brings you insulin you did not need, or forgot to administer insulin you did need. Keeping documentation of your blood sugar results can also protect you from getting your roommate's dose instead of yours.
  • If the hospital is using an insulin pen, be sure a label is affixed to the pen with only your name. Insulin pens must never be used for more than one patient. Ask the nurse about this.
  • Keep in mind that some hospitals allow and even encourage patients who are experienced in using insulin at home to self administer their own insulin while hospitalized. If you are comfortable doing this, it is good opportunity for you to maintain control of your own insulin and ensure you are receiving your insulin in a timely manner.
  • If you have special equipment you use to take your insulin, such as a pen or a pump, never assume others will know how to use it. Always try to go over instructions for use with a nurse before surgery or hospitalization. Teach a family member or friend how to use the equipment in case you are too sick or unable to explain it.  
  • During hospitalizations, there may be procedures when you are required not to eat anything. If this occurs, your insulin will likely need to be adjusted or held. Unfortunately, there have been instances when nursing staff have continued insulin injections in error, despite a patient not eating. 
Monday, 23 January 2012 22:21

Insulin safety in your home

Staying safe with insulin in your home: avoiding an insulin mix-up

Mistakes with insulin can happen at home. In fact, people who have been using insulin for many years may be more likely to make a mistake. The more often you perform a task, the more you may do so without acting carefully. For example, if you always keep your long-acting insulin on your bedside table and accidentally switch it with your short-acting insulin, you could mistakenly grab the incorrect insulin thinking it was your long-acting insulin. If you do not carefully read the label, you can inject too much of the short acting form and cause a low blood sugar.

Below are some tips to help avoid an insulin mix-up in your home:

After opening an insulin vial, throw out the carton:

  • Storing insulin vials in the original cardboard carton after the packages have been opened can lead to a mix-up.
  • This happens if you replace the vial into the wrong carton.
  • By eliminating storage of vials in their cartions, the chance of error is eliminated.

If you are using more than one type of insulin, consider using two different insulin devices to inject your insulin.

  • For instance, use a vial and a needle/syringe for your long-acting insulin and an insulin pen for your rapid-acting insulin.
  • If you are unable to use different devices, then consider making each vial, pen, or cartridge look different by putting a rubber band around one type of insulin.
  • You can also use colored stickers to help differentiate the insulin.

Do not ever assume you are using the correct insulin based solely on what it looks like or where it is stored.

  • Some people may think that fast-acting insulin is the only insulin that's a clear liquid. But that's not true. For example, insulin glargine (Lantus) is a clear, 24-hour insulin.
  • Likewise, not all intermediate- or long-acting insulins are cloudy. For example, some pre-mixed combinations of intermediate- and rapid-acting insulins are cloudy.
  • Never rely only on the container or label color to identify your insulin. The label color can be used as a guide to identify insulin but should never be used by itself. In some cases, different types of insulin may have similar label colors. Always look carefully at the label and read it before using any insulin. Differentiate any similiar looking insulin products (e.g. place a rubber band around one type of insulin).

ALWAYS read the label before using your insulin

  • Insulin that is usually stored in one location can be accidently switched by accident or by another person. If you use your insulin based on where it is stored (e.g. butter compartment in refrigerator) and inject it without reading the label carefully, the wrong insulin and dose might be used.

As with any prescription medication, it's important to make sure that what you receive from the pharmacist matches what the doctor prescribed. Let's look at some of the reasons dispensing errors happen:

Mix-up of similar insulin product names


Dispensing errors can happen when the names of two insulin products get confused. As you can see by reading the labels, Novolin 70/30 and Novolog Mix 70/30 have similar names. However, the way that they act when injected is quite different. Occasionally we do hear about cases where one product is dispensed incorrectly for the other. If Novolog 70/30 is given by mistake, too far from meal time, a patient's blood sugar may fall too low. 




Here are some other insulin names that have been involved with insulin mix-ups:

  • Humalog and Humalog 75/25
  • Humalog and Humulin Regular
  • Humulin Regular and Humulin NPH
  • Humalog 75/25 and Humulin 70/30
  • Novolog and Humalog
  • Novolog 70/30 and Novolin 70/30 and Humulin 70/30
  • Novolin Regular and Novolin NPH



Mix-Ups of Similar Names of Other Medicines:

Sometimes insulin looks like another medicine when written on the prescription. If the handwriting is hard to read, a medication mix-up can occur. The example below is an actual prescription written for the insulin Levemir. The pharmacist however misread the name of the drug for Lovonox. Lovonox is is a medication for preventing and treating blood clots. Like insulin it is prescribed in units. This is a dangerous mix-up and can result in harm and even death.


Computer selection errors

When a doctor prescribes electronically, or when the pharmacy staff receives an insulin prescription, they must select the insulin product from a computer screen. As shown below, many insulin products appear quite similar when seen on the pharmacy computer screen. Look complicated? It can to a pharmacist or doctor too.  Although it happens rarely, selecting the wrong product from the computer screen has led to patients getting the wrong insulin. While healthcare computer system vendors are working to improve the way drugs are selected on computer screens, be aware that this is one important reason for an error. It's good evidence to show why it's so important for you to know the name and proper dose of the insulin that's being prescribed for you.  


Misreading the abbreviation "U" (U = units) as the number 0 or the number 4:

Insulin is dosed in units. Some doctors dangerously abbreviate the word "unit" with the letter "U." This has been known to increase the risk of errors dramatically. A "U" can look like a 4 or a zero, thus causing as much as a tenfold overdose!  This abbreviation is so dangerous that it should never be used. In fact the Joint Commission, forbids its use in organizations that it accredits. That hasn't stopped some healthcare practitioners though, who may not understand the risk. Doctors should always spell out the word "unit" when writing a prescription for insulin.


In this example, the abbreviation "U" can be misread as the number 4. This would cause the patient to get 44 units instead of 4, a dangerous overdose.




In this example, the "U" looks like a zero.  This would also cause a dangerous overdose of 60 units instead of 6.




Inadequate spacing between the word "Unit" and the dose can lead to an error when reading the prescription. The dose of 8 units is replaced by a dangerously high dose of 80 units.