An article in US News and World Report quantifies the number of deaths and injuries that result from doctors’ handwriting and the abbreviations they use on prescriptions.
Reassuringly, those errors cause only a small percentage of the 7,000 American deaths attributed to medication errors each year. It turns out that there are thousands of those kinds of errors, but most get caught by a nurse, pharmacist or someone else. (Maybe even a patient!)
I also found it interesting to learn that the Joint Commission has a list of prescription abbreviations they think doctors should avoid. Here’s a link.
Two thoughts come to mind. First, that this is exactly what I was talking about when I wrote this column, published a few weeks ago:
And second, that these kinds of errors are 100% preventable — and WE, the patients, can prevent them by double checking everything on the prescription handed to us. Ask the prescribing doctor to provide you with verbal instructions to double check the written prescription. AND, ask the pharmacist to provide you with verbal instructions, double check them against what the doctor told you and wrote for you, AND double check them against the written instructions provided to you when you pick up the prescription.
It’s one error that can be easily checked and stopped by patients. So, let’s do it!
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