If you're hospitalized, you may not feel strong enough to take an active role in managing your medication use. Family members often provide the comfort and support needed to promote your return to good health. In either case, you rely on hospital staff to ensure medications are administered correctly and on time.

Medication Safety—A Team Effort

Portsmouth Regional Hospital is deeply aware of this responsibility to patients and families. We have systems of checks and balances in place to make sure medications are used safely and effectively. Each medication order is checked by pharmacy and nursing staff against a patient bar-coded identification band using our pioneering Electronic Medication Administration Record (eMAR) & Bar-Coding technology. Team members may also ask you questions about the medication you're taking. Although some questions may seem redundant, the goal is to ensure you receive the medication that's right for you.

During this critical time, as a patient or a family member, you're part of the healthcare team. You share the responsibility for safe medication use. As much as you trust your care provider's knowledge and judgment, you owe it to yourself and your family to learn all you can about proper medication use.

Here are some things you can do to ensure safe medication use for you and your family.

Tell us about:

  • Prescription medications you take or have taken recently
  • Over-the-counter medications you use, or commonly use, for pain, headaches, coughs, colds and other ailments
  • "Natural" remedies, supplements or alternative medications you use
  • Any recreational drugs you use, including alcohol
  • Any concerns or questions you have about your medications
  • As much information as you have or can remember about allergies or reactions to medications you may have had in the past
  • Your diet, including foods and beverages you commonly eat or drink

Before receiving a medication, treatment or any other service, make sure the armband containing your name and other information is accessible and can be checked.

Questions you should ask before receiving medications:

  • What's the name of the medication? Is this the brand name or the generic name?
  • What's it for?
  • How much should I get and how often?
  • How long will I need to take this medication?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • Do you have any information I can read about this medication?

If this medication is new to you, also ask:

  • Will this replace anything I was taking before I came in?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • Has this medication been on the market for more than a year?
  • If you notice anything different that catches your attention, ask. For example:
    • You receive four tablets in the morning instead of two (you may be receiving a new medication you might want to learn more about).
    • The medication you've been taking for blood pressure was always a blue tablet, but today you get a white one (it could be a generic version of the same medication).

Before taking the first dose, do the following:

  • Read the label. Make sure the medication you received is the one your doctor ordered. If there's any difference in the appearance or shape of your medication between refills, do not take it until you've discussed it with the pharmacist. Remember, many medications have names that sound or look alike.
  • Read the directions on the label and any written information you've been given. If any of it seems to contradict what you already know about the medication, call your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
  • Recheck the label before each dose. Never take medications in the dark.
  • If you develop itching or swelling or if you have trouble breathing after taking a new medication, get medical help immediately.
  • Be alert for other side effects. If they become troublesome, call your pharmacist, nurse or doctor.
  • Take the medication exactly as prescribed. In some cases, you can stop taking a medication when your symptoms improve. In other cases, you must complete the course of therapy, even though you're feeling much better.
  • Keep medications in their original containers and store them out of the reach of children.
  • Check the expiration date on all medications and properly dispose of outdated products.
  • You may find it useful to keep a personal medication record or medication wallet card that can be helpful for both you and your care provider. Bring it with you to your appointments.
  • Invest in a reference book on medications. Several are available in low-cost paperback editions. Ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation.

Things You Should Know About Your Medications

  • What are the brand and generic names of the product?
  • What's the purpose of the medication?
  • What does the medication look like?
  • What's the dosage?
  • How should I take this medication?
  • How often should I take this medication? What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Does this medication have any side effects? What are they? What should I do if they occur?
  • Does this medication interact with any other medications? With foods? What are these interactions, and what should I do if they occur?
  • How should I store this medication?

Serious medication errors are very rare. But what if an error does occur or you suspect an error? If you're concerned an error has occurred, ask your healthcare provider. Patients and families can also:

  • Remember that the effects of most medication errors are minimal. Ask what the probable impact of the error will be.
  • Ask for a full explanation of why the error occurred. Expect an honest discussion.
  • Ask to talk with the hospital's designated patient advocate (for example, a nurse manager or patient representative) if you feel your questions are not being answered satisfactorily.
  • Share your suggestions about how to prevent medication errors with your care provider or a patient representative.

Teamwork Pays Off

Taking an active role in safe medication use offers many advantages. Your participation helps prevent medication errors and makes you a more informed healthcare consumer. Your healthcare provider, nurse and pharmacist welcome your involvement. Teamwork has benefits for everyone.

We're here to help. Don't be shy—feel free to ask questions about your medications and other treatments.