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Prescription drugs and other medications are a regular part of life for many Americans. While these drugs are invaluable and can substantially increase the quality of life for those taking them, care should be exercised to avoid any possible prescription mishaps. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, more than 95,000 voluntary reports of medication errors have been received since 2000. There are several ways to make sure to avoid these incidents from happening in the future. We’ve collected a few that we have discovered from professionals in the field.

Steps for avoiding prescription mishaps

If someone doesn’t understand, he should ask.

One of the most common causes of medication mishaps is not fully or correctly understanding how, when or under what conditions one is supposed to take a medicine. If a doctor tells someone that he must take a certain medication on an empty stomach, the man should ask if he has questions: Does that mean first thing in the morning? Do liquids count? What happens if I forget and have breakfast before I take the medication?


As the above slide from an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality presentation shows, even as seemingly simple a direction as “take two tablets by mouth twice daily” is open to misinterpretation. Although 70% of participants with a “low” health literacy level said they understood the directions, less than 40% demonstrated that they actually did understand the instructions.

Patients should get to know common prescription language.

Prescription slips tend to be written in a language that is a bit alien to most of us. Here are some of the common abbreviations that people should know:

  • Po – Take the medicine by mouth.* Bid – Take the medicine two times per day.
  • Tid – Take the medicine three times a day.
  • Qid – Take the medicine four times a day.
  • Q 3 h- Take the medicine every three hours.
  • Prn – Take the medicine as needed.
  • DAW – “Dispense as Written.” This is generally used when the prescribing doctor wants to make sure that the patient is given the exact medication prescribed, rather than a generic version. Some prescriptions now take the opposite approach: they require that a doctor writer “Brand only” or something similar if only one specific brand is required.

More valuable information on these abbreviations can be found through

Those picking up the prescriptions need to double check the labels.

It’s a good idea to take a minute to check the label on your prescription to make sure that it matches the slip that was given to the pharmacist. Are the instructions correct? Is the dosage correct? Most important of all, is this the exact medication that was prescribed?


Many pharmacies now provide labels such as the one above. These labels include a description of the medication inside the bottle. Individuals should make sure that the mediation in the bottle matches the description on the label, if it is provided.

Seniors and caregivers may want to add more information.

If a person is taking multiple medications, it’s a good idea to tape a note to each bottle that tells him what the medication is for (e.g., “blood pressure” or “weak bones”). This is especially valuable if an occasion arises where he needs to ask someone else to get his medicine for him; it’s easier for a person to find a bottle labeled “gout” than to try to figure out which of three or four medications is the right one. If there is other information that he wants to add or highlight on the note (e.g., “Take before breakfast!” or “Don’t take with milk”), he should feel free to do so.


Juggling the many drugs and medications that a senior often needs can be a challenge, especially when it comes to keeping track of which medication can be taken when. The trained staff of HomeHero can lend an expert hand with these and other medication issues to help reduce the chance of any prescription mishaps in their senior clients.

What problems have you come across when it comes to medications as a senior or as a caregiver for a loved one? Send us your thoughts on Twitter @HomeHero or share a comment of Facebook!

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