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4. Reading labels, making a medication list


Our next tool for preventing medication errors is an up-to-date medication list.

First let’s look at these sample medicine labels, and these sample medicine lists. 

If the links don’t open in new windows, you can either paste the links into a new browser window, or you can print them out.

Take a minute to look over the sample labels and lists.

The lists keep track of mostly the same things, with a few differences:

      • the name of the medicine,
      • how much is in one dose (how strong it is),
      • how much to take,
      • how to take it,
      • how many times each day to take it, and
      • which doctor prescribed it.

These lists should include everything a person might take for ‘health’:

      • prescription medicines,
      • natural or herbal remedies, such as gingko biloba,
      • vitamins or other supplements, and
      • any medicine you can buy ‘over the counter.’

Do you keep something like this already? If not, you could print one of these, or call and email us and we can send you this as a wallet –sized card, if we still have them in stock.

Script Your Future/Alaska Med Ed wallet card (PDF)

You may want to design your own list, so it will have everything you want on it.

For example, some people like to make a note about how the medicine looks – such as ‘small round orange pill’. Others like a column about how they take the pill – ‘with food’ or ‘before breakfast’, for example.

You can print this blank list to practice writing in the information for Sandra Birdsnest's albuterol and the over-the-counter Big Pill antacid medication, then check your work here. 

You’ll notice you don’t need all of the information on each label for your list. However, you may want to put information on your list that isn’t on the label… such as what the medicine is for (asthma, for example).

How would Sandra know what the medicine is for?
She would ask the doctor who prescribed the medicine.

And if Sandra wasn’t sure what to write in each section?
Exactly – she can ask her doctor or pharmacist.

Just to make sure we’re clear on what “over the counter” means…

    Over the counter medicines are medicines that we can buy without a doctor’s prescription.
    An example is Tylenol or cold medicine. Sometimes you’ll see this written as “OTC medicines” –OTC means over-the-counter. We often buy them in a grocery, drug or health food store.
    We need to write all of these on our list because any of them can interact with our other medicines.

Has your health care provider ever talked to you about medicine interaction?

    Interaction is when one medicine changes how another one works.
    An interaction can make a medicine stronger or weaker, and cause many problems.
    In Mrs. Nelson’s case, ginkgo biloba interacted with her blood thinner and made it stronger so she bruised easily and got the nosebleed.
    It’s important to know that alcohol interacts with many medicines, too.
    Grapefruit juice is another example of something that can interact with some medicines.
    Now that you know that, you can see why natural remedies, supplements, alcohol and over-the-counter medicines are just as important for your doctors and pharmacists to know about as the prescription medicines.

Looking at these lists, we can see that if Mrs. Nelson had kept a list and showed it to her doctors and pharmacists, they could have seen exactly what she was taking.
They could’ve made sure there were no interaction problems.

The next section covers another important way to prevent mistakes.

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