It turns out that medication errors are now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States. The first is car crashes.
What happens to cause the death with a medication error is that either the person is given the wrong medication or they’re given too much or too little of the medication they’re supposed to get. I guess this means that either their underlying condition doesn’t get treated and they die of that, or it means they get something that is toxic to them or combines badly with another medication they are already taking.
The piece on the radio was about how medication errors tend to be higher in the month of July in hospitals where there are new medical residents coming on staff. Apparently these new residents are under slept and inexperienced and during the month of July they make more mistakes than they do any other point in their career.
As I listened, I was thinking about how this applies to people with elderly parents. Our elderly parents tends to be on increasing and increasingly complex medication regimens. There are a lot of different chemicals pumping around in their bodies, and it’s very important for us to keep an eye on what’s happening and to make sure that everything is working well together.
One of the tools that can help with this is a medication reminder device that will help keep the right medicines coming in at the right times. Medication reminder devices are available in the very simplest forms as pillboxes that let you plan out a weeks worth of medications at a time. On the high-end you can get computerized, lockeded medication reminder devices that will keep expensive medications secure and only release them at specific times. Some of these machines can alert you long-distance if medications haven’t been taken. And they have an audible alarm to remind the elderly person in the house that it’s time to take their medication.
I think these are great idea, partly because I can’t even remember to take my medication on a regular basis–and all I take is vitamins.
And by the way, if you are concerned about this July spike in medication errors there a couple of ways shared in the radio piece for how to avoid them. The biggest advice was simply to politely but firmly ask the nurses and staff to doublecheck all prescriptions before medication is administered. They also limit recommended having an advocate come with you to the hospital to make sure that things go smoothly. It’s a tricky balance, because you don’t want to convey that you doubt the competence of the staff was hoping you, but it’s also a fact that medication errors are easy to make and I made all the time.
Photo by vieux bandit