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February 9th, 2011
06:57 PM ET

Empowered Patient: How to avoid errors at the pharmacy

When you pick up your prescriptions, how closely do you look at the label?  What happened to a Colorado woman may make you take a second look.  Mareena Silva of Fort Lupton  is six weeks pregnant, and last week went to a local grocery store to pick up an antibiotic her doctor prescribed.
According to a story by CNN affiliate KMGH in Denver, Silva says instead of giving her antibiotics, the pharmacist accidentally gave her methotrexate, a cancer drug that's also used to induce early abortions.  Now Silva  says she's worried she'll lose her baby.
About 3 billion prescriptions are filled at neighborhood pharmacies each year and according to the National Patient Safety Foundation, some 30 million of those prescriptions will be dispensed improperly.  So what can an Empowered Patient do to protect themselves?  Here are my top three tips.
  • Write down your prescription information.  That's because when you hand over the prescription to the pharmacist you no longer have a record of what your doctor prescribed.  This way, you will have the information in hand so that you can make sure you get the right medicine.
  • Check the label. Is that your name, medicine and the right dosage?  Sometimes drug names look and sound familiar, so make sure the name of the drug on the label matches the prescription your doctor gave you.  Sometimes pharmacies will swap out brand name drugs for generics drugs, so when that happens just double-check with your pharmacist.
  • Open the bottle. While you're at the pharmacist's, I recommend opening the bottle and showing the pills to the pharmacist. Ask if it's the drug you've been prescribed.

For more advice, read my Empowered Patient column on how to avoid pharmacy errors.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.