Protect Your Child From Medical Errors

20 preventative tips for parents.

from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Medical errors happen when something that was planned as a part of medical care doesn’t work out, or when the wrong plan was used in the first place. Often, mistakes result from problems created by today’s complex health care system. While a recent study of 120 clinical pathology labs estimated that 2.9 million lab test errors occur annually, errors also happen when doctors and their patients have problems communicating. Uninvolved and uninformed patients are less likely to accept the doctor’s choice of treatment and less likely to do what they need to do to make the treatment work.

What about when your child is the patient? Here’s what you can do to safeguard your children:

1. The single most important way you can help to prevent errors is to be an active member of your child’s health care team. That means taking part in every decision about your child’s health care. Research shows that parents who are more involved with their child’s care tend to get better results. Some specific tips, based on the latest scientific evidence about what works best, follow.

2. Make sure that all of your child’s doctors know about everything your child is taking and his or her weight. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs. At least once a year, bring all of your child’s medicines and supplements with you to the doctor. “Brown bagging” your child’s medicines can help you and your doctor talk about them and find out if there are any problems. Knowing your child’s medication history and weight can help your doctor keep your child’s records up to date, which can help your child get better quality care.

3. Make sure your child’s doctor knows about any allergies and how your child reacts to medicines. This can help you avoid getting a medicine that can harm your child.

4. When your child’s doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read it. If you can’t read the doctor’s handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either. Ask the doctor to use block letters to print the name of the drug.

5. When you pick up your child’s medicine from the pharmacy, ask: Is this the medicine that my child’s doctor prescribed? A study by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences found that 88 percent of medicine errors involved the wrong drug or the wrong dose.

6. Ask for information about your child’s medicines in terms you can understand — both when the medicines are prescribed and when you receive them at the hospital or pharmacy.

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • What is the medicine for?
  • Is the dose of this medicine appropriate for my child based on his or her weight?
  • How often is my child supposed to take it, and for how long?
  • What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
  • Is this medicine safe for my child to take with other medicines or dietary supplements?
  • What food, drink, or activities should my child avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Is the dose of this medicine appropriate for my child based on his or her weight?
  • When should I see an improvement?

7. If you have any questions about the directions on your child’s medicine labels, ask. Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For example, ask if “four doses daily” means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

8. Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your child’s liquid medicine. Also, ask questions if you’re not sure how to use the device. Research shows that many people do not understand the right way to measure liquid medicines. For example, many use household teaspoons, which often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid. Special devices, like marked oral syringes, help people to measure the right dose. Being told how to use the devices helps even more.

9. Ask for written information about the side effects your child’s medicine could cause. If you know what might happen, you will be better prepared if it does — or, if something unexpected happens instead. That way, you can report the problem right away and get help before it gets worse. A study found that written information about medicines can help people recognize problem side effects. If your child experiences side effects, alert the doctor and pharmacist right away.

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail