What to Do Every Time You Get a Prescription Filled

6 Simple Steps to Ensure Medication Safety

Prescription drugs on a shelf
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Life is hectic, and often, when you stop by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, you probably pay the bill and are out the door without a second thought. Or, you may be ordering your prescription drugs from a mail-order or online pharmacy. Many patients don't realize that there is a double checking process that you should go through every time you receive a handwritten or printed prescription from your physician, every time you get a new prescription filled, and every time you pick up a refill at the pharmacy or receive a refill by mail.

It may seem to be overkill, but errors happen far too frequently, and you need to be especially careful with the medications you take. Ask yourself these six questions every time you get a prescription filled. 

Is the Prescription Readable?

When you have a hard-copy prescription, if it's hand-written, make sure you can read it. Whether it's written or printed, double-check that it is for the drug that you have agreed on, at the correct dosage. Pay attention to milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg) and other distinctions. Know what the different abbreviations, like prn, or bid, mean. We all know about the jokes about the legibility of physicians handwriting, but illegible prescriptions can be dangerous if the pharmacy can't understand what the doctor has written, or if something has been transcribed improperly.

Is the Prescription for You?

When you pick up a prescription, check the name to make sure it's for you. Several days, I've gone to the pharmacy -- usually a grocery store pharmacy or big pharmacy, not my smaller, local pharmacy I usually go to -- and they have handed me someone else's prescription! If I hadn't checked, it could have been disastrous.

Is the Cost of the Prescription Correct?

Make sure that you are paying the lowest price available. Sometimes, pharmacies will charge more for your drug with a co-pay than the drug would actually cost retail, and if you pay out of pocket, you'll pay less.

Is the Prescription Dosage Correct?

 If your doctor is changing your dosage or changing your prescription in any way, be particularly careful to look at the pill bottle when you receive it. A thyroid patient contacted me recently and said that her doctor had switched her from taking one 10 mcg capsules of time-released T3 a day to 20 mcg a day. When she went to pick up the refill, she just didn't realize that the capsules were 20 mcg, and continued to take two per day -- she ended up taking 40 mcg a day -- double her dose! She realized the error within a few days and didn't suffer any particular symptoms from the short period of overdosage, but if she had checked the bottle when she picked up the refill, she would have realized that the bottle said to take only one capsule per day.

Is The Prescription What Your Doctor Prescribed?

Every time you receive a new prescription, or a new refill of any drug, look carefully at the bottle to confirm that the information on the label matches up with what you know you were prescribed. I also recommend that you open the bottle, and just do a rough estimate to make sure that you have a sufficient number of pills or capsules in your prescription and that the pharmacy hasn't shorted you. (Sadly, it happens more often than you'd think.) You should also look at the pills and make sure they look right to you. You may also want to smell them and make sure that they don't have an unexpected or unusual odor.

Is There Anything New About This Prescription?

Read the pharmacy insert, and know the fillers, dyes, and ingredients used in the medication you are taking. Many people don't bother to read about the side effects of the medications they take and don't realize that what they may think are symptoms of illness may actually be symptoms of over or under medication, or an allergic reaction or sensitivity to ingredients -- dyes for example, or lactose -- in the medication. (Thyroid patients, for example, should know that some levothyroxine preparations contain lactose and acacia, which can trigger tree pollen allergies.)