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What you must do to prevent medication errors in your home

November 05, 2014

Every 8 minutes, a child experiences a medication error.

I’m not talking about a medication error that occurs in the hospital, but the ones that happen in our homes every day. I’m not even talking about the kind of medication mistakes that occur from our kids accidentally getting into the medicine cabinet. Last year, 63,000 children needed medical care because they were either given the wrong medication, the wrong dose of medication or given a medication twice. Most often, these medicines are being incorrectly administered by a caregiver within our own homes.

These numbers tell us that there is an alarming trend. We are giving our kids medicine in an attempt to help them and to ease their suffering, but far too often these medications are causing harm because they aren’t being given correctly.

What you should know

  • Mistakes occur most often when giving liquid medications.
  • Infants under 1 year of age are most likely to experience medication errors.
  • Infants under 1 year of age are also most likely to experience serious complications, sometimes even death.
  • Medications frequently given incorrectly are pain and fever reducers, cough and cold medicines and antihistamines.
  • A substantial increase in medication errors related to dietary supplements, herbals and homeopathic medicines have been noted.

What you can do to prevent medication errors

  • For liquid formulations, use the measuring device included within the packaging.
  • If you don’t have a measuring spoon or a medicine syringe, get one from your local pharmacy. Don’t use kitchen spoons for measuring, as their size varies widely.
  • Read dosage instructions carefully. If you aren’t sure about the amount or frequency you should give, call your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Make a note or set an alarm detailing the time a medication was given. Don’t give another dose until the appropriate time has elapsed.
  • For over-the-counter medications, check the label and notice the active ingredients. Some medicines (especially cough and cold varieties) have several active ingredients in one formulation. Never give two medications that have the same active ingredients, as this could result in an overdose.
  • Never use an adult medication for children unless it was recommended or prescribed by your doctor.
  • Recognize that medications (even with the same name) come in different strengths. Often, infant drops are more concentrated than a children’s liquid and this can be confusing. Read each label to confirm the dose every time you give the medication, even if you’ve given it before.
The most important thing to remember when giving your child a medication is this: if you don’t know, ask. Utilize the resources that you have in healthcare professionals. Call your doctor, the nurse at your pediatrician’s office or ask your pharmacist to help you determine what your child needs. When it comes to your child’s medicine, the details matter.

Be sure you are equipped with the information you need to give your child the best care.