How can you protect yourself against a fatal medication error?

Medical mistakes are responsible for as many as 98,000 deaths in the United States each year -- many of them related to medication errors.

Is there any way you can protect yourself against this all-too-common lethal risk? Consider the following defensive actions:

1. Invest in a medical alert bracelet or necklace -- especially if you have drug allergies to commonly administered medications. For example, many ambulances have morphine that they can give to someone who is injured and in a lot of pain -- but if you have morphine allergy, the attempt to help you could accidentally kill you.

Make certain that your medical alert bracelet or necklace is on you whenever you leave your home. If you're incapacitated in a car wreck or some other accident, you alert can speak for you.

2. It's estimated that around 39 percent of medication errors take place during the ordering process. For example, if you're being hospitalized, a nurse may mishear you when you tell him or her that you're on Inderal and put the similar-sounding Adderall into the computer. That could cause a devastating physical reaction for you.

To avoid these problems, consider keeping a list of your current medications in your wallet or purse. A typed list is best, if possible. Include your dosage amount and the times you normally take each drug.

3. The second greatest risk of a medication error -- 38 percent -- occurs during the administration of any drug.

To protect yourself, never swallow any medication you are handed without examining it first. If you don't recognize a pill, ask the nurse to verify that it is the right drug. If a nurse is giving you IV drugs or drugs through a shot, ask the nurse to double-check the drug order -- especially if you don't recognize the name of the drug or aren't sure why it is being given to you. If you aren't able to speak for yourself, a family member should try to stay with you at all times to assist in this process.

Anyone who has lost a family member due to a fatal medical error should contact an attorney about the possibility of a wrongful death claim. Don't delay, because there are time limits involved that could affect your ability to receive compensation.

Source: Data Ray Patient Safety Technologies, "Patient Safety Facts & Figures," accessed June 02, 2017

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