Nova Scotia·health hacks

3 ways to protect yourself from a medication mistake at the hospital

When you're given medication at the hospital, always ask the nurse to repeat what it's called and why you need it. That's the best way to avoid a mistake that could make you sicker, says Information Morning's health-care columnist Mary Jane Hampton.

'28,000 people in Canada died in 2013 because of the medical care that they received,' consultant says

One in 18 hospital patients in Canada was harmed due to a preventable medical error, according to a 2016 report. (CBC)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

When you're given medication at the hospital, always ask the nurse to repeat what it's called and why you need it. That's the best way to avoid a mistake that could make you sicker, says health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton.

Research shows one in 18 Canadians admitted to hospital are harmed due to a preventable mistake, often in how medication is administered.

"Even more concerning is that 28,000 people in Canada died in 2013 because of the medical care that they received," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning. "That's not people who died because of an illness that they went to hospital to have treated. They died because of the medical care that they got."

Hampton says people admitted to hospital can help guard against medical error by following these three health hacks:

  • Put all the medications you take in a bag and show them to the nurse in charge of your care. The bag should include everything you take, from prescriptions to natural remedies and vitamins and minerals. Tell hospital staff what dosage you take, how often you take the medication, so that something they prescribe won't result in a negative interaction.
  • When you are discharged from hospital, do not agree to leave your bed until you have been given written instructions about how and when to take your medications. Ask what the side effects might be and how long you need to take each drug.
  • Mostly importantly, ask for details every single time before you accept medication. Find out what the medication is called and why you need it. 
While no one wants to spend more time than they have to in hospital, Hampton has three health hacks for patients to consider before they leave. (Robert Short/CBC)

Asking what kind of medication you're being given, even if you're familiar with it, "will force the nurse to do a double check" and make sure the five rules of safe medication dispensing are being followed, Hampton said.

Those five rules are that you're the right patient, that it's the right drug, that it's the right dose, that it's the right time and that the medication is being given the right way.

Mistakes can be easy to make, Hampton said. A nurse might grab the wrong medication off the shelf or the decimal point is put in the wrong spot "so you end up with 10 times the amount of the dose that was required."

"But it's also other really concerning reasons like nurses and other health providers saying that they're rushed, they're overtired, they're distracted," Hampton added.

Advice on how we can protect ourselves against a common kind of medical mistake. 6:23

While patients used to spend a week or more recovering in hospital after surgery or a serious illness, that's no longer the case.

"You can be discharged from hospital literally hours after receiving surgery, and complex instructions are being given to you when you are already feeling foggy and disoriented," Hampton said.

She said medication errors when patients get home are a leading cause for readmission to hospital.

READ MORE FROM OUR HEALTH HACK SERIES

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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