Medication Safety

How you can help keep yourself safe when taking medications

If you are ill, have an infection, are recovering from surgery or have a chronic illness, medications can help relieve pain, aid with healing and help you live a healthier more fulfilling life. However, it is very important to be informed about your medications.

When you take your medications, make sure you are taking the prescribed dose of the right drug at the right time. You should know as much as possible about the medications you are taking. You are the most important member of your health care team and Virginia Mason urges every patient to be a “safety inspector.” We want you to ask questions if there is something that is not clear or if the medication you are receiving does not seem right.

The following tips will help you be a medication safety inspector.

When you receive a prescription from your physician:

  • Make sure your physician has a complete list of the medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal supplements you are taking.
  • Ask why your doctor is asking you to take the medicine
  • Find out how many refills you can get and make sure your physician has provided enough until your next visit.
  • Make sure you can read the writing on the prescription.

When dropping off a new prescription:

  • Let the pharmacist know all the medications and over-the-counter drugs you are taking. This includes vitamins and herbal supplements. Doing this will help identify potentially harmful drug interactions.
  • Tell the pharmacist your allergies or medications you have not tolerated in the past.
  • Informing the pharmacy about your other health issues can help prevent use of medications that might worsen those problems.
  • Establish a relationship with one pharmacy/pharmacist, rather than using multiple pharmacies.

When picking up your medication at the pharmacy:

  • While at the pharmacy counter, make sure that the drug you are picking up is the right one.
  • Compare the drug name given by your physician with the drug name on the pharmacy label.
  • Open the bottle and look at the medications. Learn what your medications look like if you take them over a period of time.
  • Confirm the dosage is correct. Compare the instructions and strength given by your physician to the instructions on the pharmacy label.

Know about your medications.

When you receive a new medication at the pharmacy, it should be dispensed with verbal and written pharmacist instructions. Make sure you understand the instructions and the following information:

  • What are both names of your medication (generic and “brand” name)?
  • Brand name: name given by the manufacturer.
  • Generic name: the chemical name of the medication.
  • What is the medicine supposed to do?
  • How did your physician tell you to take the medication?
    • How many times per day?
    • How much to take at one time?
    • How to take the medications (with water, juice, before or after meals?)
    • What results should you expect?
    • What to do about possible side effects?
    • What monitoring will need to be done?
    • How long to take the medication?
  • How should you store the medication?

Take medication in sufficient light to assure you're taking the correct medication at the correct dosage.

When you need more medication:

  • Prescriptions and refills are valid for only one year. When you call for a refill, allow 24 hours to complete the order.
  • Some medications require a new prescription each time or can only be refilled for six months.