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Safe Medication Use

As a patient or family member, you are part of the health care team you share the responsibility for safe medication use.

Medications can cure disease and alleviate symptoms. They can relieve pain. They make it possible for people with long-term illness to lead healthier lives.

Medications are also powerful chemicals. It is essential that they be properly used. This means that every patient must receive medication, in the right amount every time.

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist work together to select the medication that's best for you - prescribed the correct dosage, dispense the product correctly and label it clearly. It's also their job to know about your medications and to answer questions, in addition, barcoding of the medication and your armband assures added safety. Once you've started taking the medication, they should make sure it is working and that you are not having any serious side effects.

As much as you trust your care provider's knowledge and judgment, you owe it to yourself and your family to learn as much as you can about medication use.

In The Hospital

While you are hospitalized, you may not be feeling strong enough to take an active role in medication use. Often it's family members who provide the comfort and support needed to promote your return to good health. In either case, you rely on the hospital staff to ensure that medications are administered correctly and on time.

UHC is deeply aware of this responsibility to patients and families. We have systems of checks and balances in place to make sure that medications are used safely and effectively. Each medication order is checked and double checked by pharmacy  and nursing staff, and medication records are maintained on computer systems.

Even during this critical time. however, you can do things to help ensure safe medication use. If you are too ill or tired, your family member or caregiver may be able to help. For example:

  • When you are admitted to the hospital, bring a list of all medication you are taking. If there isn't time to make a list, bring the medications, including herbals and over-the-counter products. Keep them in their containers.
  • Before each procedure is done or medication is given, always make sure that the hospital personnel calls you by name, checks your birth date, and checks your wristband(s).
  • Each time a new medicine is prescribed, make sure the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist answers the questions under "Things you should know about your medications." Ask to see what the medication looks like (for example, the shape and color of capsules and tablets, or the color of liquids and intravenous medications) and how often it is administered.
  • Always have your nurse open your medication in your presence
  • If a nurse comes to replace an I.V. solution or administer a medication, ask what it is for. If a dose is not administered on time ring the nursing station. If the nurse gives you a green tablet and you think it should be orange, question it.

In some cases, the answers are simple. For example, if you've been taking a brand name product at home and the hospital uses a generic product, the color or shape of the tablet may be different. In other cases, asking questions can prevent a medication error.

Things You Should Know About Your Medications

  1. What are the brand and generic names of the product?
  2. What is the purpose of the medication?
  3. What does the medication look like?
  4. What is the dosage?
  5. How should I take this Medication?
  6. How often should I take this medication? What should I do if I miss a dose?
  7. Does this medication have any side effects? What are they? What should I do if they occur?
  8. Does this medication interact with any other medications? With food? What are these interactions and what should I do if they occur?
  9. Does this medication replace anything else I am taking?
  10. How should I store this medication?

Teamwork Pays Off

Taking an active role in safe medication use has many advantages. Not only will it help prevent medication errors, it will also make you a more informed health care customer. Your doctor, nurse and pharmacist welcome your involvement. Teamwork has advantages for everyone.


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