Medication safety begins and ends with you

July 10/18
Patricia Ryan
Pill to mouth

It all starts with a diagnosis. You have a fractured arm, ear infection, type 2 diabetes… Often what comes next is the script from your prescriber to treat the diagnosis; a pain killer, antibiotic, metformin… The medication has been proven to work.

You are the patient and it all begins and ends with you. Behind each pill stands a long line of professionals ensuring you are safe. From the prescriber who diagnosed you to the pharmacist who checked the new medication against others you take. Long before the drug was available there were pharmaceutical researchers who spent years in clinical trials and government regulators who reviewed the trials to approve the drug. When the drug finally came on the market, professional associations kept a watchful eye over all of the players to make sure the medication provided help not harm.

But here’s the challenge: despite all of that oversight, the effect of that new drug can be impacted by all kinds of things like your ability to metabolize it, interactions with over the counter and natural medications and your consumption of alcohol or cannabis. Not to mention what happens when the new drug bumps up against other prescriptions you take. It’s really important for you to pay attention to the way your body responds to medications and talk to your pharmacist or prescriber if it doesn’t feel safe.

“The one constant as you move through the healthcare system is you.”

- Dr. Mike Evans

So, what’s the deal? How safe are we? The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) defines ‘medication safety’ as “freedom from preventable harm with medication use”.

  • More than 1 in 9 emergency-department visits were due to drug related adverse events, and 68 percent of them were preventable.
  • Close to 25 percent of patients involved in a medication adverse event died or suffered some other catastrophic event.

We all have a role in being free from preventable harm. According to Dr. Mike Evans there is one simple solution, keep an up to date medication list. In Dr. Evans’ video on medication safety, he walks us through the importance of being informed and proactive about medications. “The one constant as you move through the healthcare system is you.” Only 25 percent of doctors can produce an accurate medication list for their patients, but you can make sure that your prescriber has access to all your medication information.

Keeping an up to date list is just one way you can reduce your risk of preventable harm from medications. Here are a few other tips:

  • Be informed. Ask questions of your prescriber, pharmacist or other healthcare provider about all your medications
  • Request a medication review from your pharmacist if you take multiple medications
  • Get your medications from one pharmacy
  • Talk to your pharmacist or prescriber before stopping any medication
  • Report medication incidents and adverse events
  • Discuss your reasons for not taking your medications as prescribed with your pharmacist or prescriber

You can reduce the risk of preventable medication harm. Start with keeping an up to date medication list. Your pharmacist can help, and there are new tools and technologies on the market that make it easy.

Do you have a story about improving medication safety? Share what you are doing to reduce the risk of preventable harm from medication use.


[ii] (A 2008 study)

[iii] (Canadian Medical Protective Association)

[iv] In a recent ISMP survey, Commonwealth Fund 2008 International Health Policy Survey of Sicker Adults. 2008 [cited 2009 May 24]. Available from: 2008/The%202008%20Commonwealth%20Fund%20International% 20Health%20Policy%20Survey%20of%20Sicker%20

[v] Dr. Ed Etchell -   Over a quarter of hospital prescribing errors are attributable to incomplete medication histories being obtained at the time of admission. We undertook a systematic review of studies describing the frequency, type and clinical importance of medication history errors at hospital admission.