Top 10 things you can do to stay safe with your medicines when you are in the hospital


topten spot-smIt’s a fact of life. Medication errors happen every day in all healthcare settings, even in the most prestigious medical centers. And more than ever, consumers are aware of just how often these medications errors can happen. But with this knowledge comes power. Consumers can and should take an active role when it comes to medication safety during a hospitalization.

Below are the top ten things the Institute for Safe Medication Practices says that you, or people you care about, should do to help prevent errors when medications are prescribed. Included are safety tips to follow even before a hospitalization.


  1. Share your medication list. Your doctors and nurses will need to know what you are taking. So before a hospitalization it’s important to have an accurate list to share with them. Be sure to include prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) products, herbals vitamins, and dietary supplements. Topical creams, ointments, medication pens, patches, eye and ear drops should also be included. Also, don’t forget any medicine you take only on occasion (like a rescue inhaler)
  2. Discuss allergies and the type of reaction you have. Hospital staff will always ask about any allergies you might have, as well as bad reactions that you’ve had to any medication or substance. That includes food, latex, intravenous dye used by radiologists, and so on. So it’s wise to keep a list of these, too. The medical team will also want to know exactly what happens when you are exposed.
  3. Discuss alcohol and other substance use. As a part of your health assessment, your doctors and nurses will ask you if you drink alcohol or use any illegal or prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to you. This information will remain confidential but is important for your care. Even if you have been prescribed certain types of medicines such as pain or anxiety medicine, you should tell the doctors if you have been taking more than the prescribed amount and how long you’ve been taking these drugs. It is important to be very honest with your doctors and nurses because alcohol and other drugs may interfere with medications you will be getting or change the way you respond to them.
  4. Review your home medication list with medicines you are given in the hospital. If you are admitted to the hospital, ask your healthcare provider what medications you are getting while you are a patient so you can compare it with the list of medicines you take at home. If any medication is not being given to you during your hospitalization be sure to ask the nurse and doctor why you are not getting it.
  5. Learn about new medications. Ask your doctor about each medication being prescribed and the reason you need to take it. Then have your nurse confirm the reason you are being given each medication. This way, if you hear something different, you should ask questions. This might prevent a medication error.
  6. Keep your identification band (ID) on. Always make sure you are wearing a hospital ID bracelet and make sure nothing is done without someone first reading or scanning the bracelet to identify you. While the nurse is checking your ID, state your name and any other unique identifier the nurse asks you for (i.e., date of birth, home address)
  7. Call for the nurse if a medication pump beeps. Medications and other intravenous (IV) fluids are frequently given using an IV pump. Sometimes these pumps can beep at unexpected times. Never attempt to turn off the pump or allow any visitors in the room touch the pump. Doing so can cause a medication or solution to be given too fast, too slow, or stop it.
  8. Bring an advocate. Some hospitalized patients are either unable to participate in their own care due to illness or some type of other physical limitations. If this occurs, try to arrange for a close friend or family member to stay with you. This individual can help you keep track of the medications being administered to you. They can also help confirm your identity before your nurse gives you any medication.
  9. Don’t let family members press a pain pump button. Some patients who have surgery or are in severe pain may be given a pain relief device known as patient–controlled analgesia (PCA). These devices allow a patient to take pain medicine without having to call a nurse. This is done through a pump connected to an intravenous line (IV). When a patient feels pain, a button can be pushed and a dose of medicine is released. This button must only be pressed by the patient, not by others. Sleepy patients will not press the button, which prevents overdoses. Others pressing the button for the patient can result in breathing difficulties.
  10. Review your discharge instructions. An updated medication list should be given to you upon discharge. Compare this to the list of medications you took prior to being hospitalized. Discuss any new prescriptions or changes in your medications with your doctor and nurse. If you experienced any new reactions or side effects to any of the treatments you received in the hospital, have the nurse write this down on your records.

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Created on October 24, 2012