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Things You Should Know: Taking Prescription Medications

Prescription medications are a fact of life. So are medication errors. Between seven and nine thousand people in the U.S. die each year due to medication errors. Many other people experience unreported adverse events. Despite this, prescription medication is essential to patient care and well-being.

Prescription medications ease pain, get rid of infections, and treat mental health conditions. Health care providers are human, and there is room for error with prescription medication. There are also measures providers and patients can take to reduce the margins for error.

This article explores patients' rights and responsibilities in the context of prescription medication.

Understanding Prescription Medication

There are almost seven thousand drugs available for use in the country. This includes prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs. The difference between these two types of drugs lies in our ability to get them. As the name implies, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are very accessible. No one needs a prescription for OTC medications. OTC medications include painkillers, herbal supplements, and topical ointments.

Prescribing Medications

Licensed medical professionals prescribe medications to treat medical conditions. Restricting certain drugs in this way helps maintain public health and patient safety. Licensed medical professionals understand how drugs work and their possible side effects.

The primary responsibility for prescription medication lies with medical professionals. Medical professionals prescribe and dispense mediation within the scope of their practice.

Patient Responsibilities

Patients also bear some responsibilities when it comes to prescription medication. Patients should ask questions if they don't understand the purpose of a drug or how to use it. Patients are also responsible for taking their medication as prescribed.

Failures by medical professionals or patients can lead to medication errors.

Medication Errors

Medication errors are usually preventable. Medication errors harm patients "while the medication is in the control of a healthcare professional or the patient." Medication errors include things like improper dosage or improper timing.

Patient Rights of Medication Administration

Patients have several rights when it comes to prescription medication. These include rights to the following:

  • Right patient
  • Right dose
  • Right route
  • Right time
  • Right medication
  • Right documentation

These rights help ensure patient safety during health care decision-making and medication administration. They are not limited to inpatient health care facilities. These rights apply in outpatient settings, in pharmacies, and even at home. They help family members or caregivers with a power of attorney in making decisions.

Right Person

Health care professionals must ensure they are administering medication to the right person. The medical professional must first verify the patient's identity in health care facilities. For inpatient facilities, nurses double-verify the patient's identity. They first scan the patient's wristband, then ask for confirmation of name and date of birth.

Right Dose

Providers ensure the patient gets the correct dosage. Medication dosages depend on the treatment plan and the patient's needs. For example, dosages for adults and children are usually different. In other instances, the right dosage depends on the person's weight.

Right Route

There are several ways or routes to deliver medications to the human body. Possible routes include oral, sublingual, via injection, transdermal (patch), or topical. This is a non-inclusive list of routes used to deliver medications. As with medication dosages, providers should tailor their choice to the patient. For example, an infant cannot swallow pills (oral route), so an injection is preferable.

Right Time

Health care providers use a schedule tailored to the patient to administer medications. This includes a daily schedule and the total duration of time needed. For example, antibiotics are often prescribed for short lengths of time, like 14 days. Or the patient may need to take the medication at specific intervals, such as twice a day.

Right Medication

Health care professionals should verify that the medication is correct throughout the medication administration process. Some medicines have similar names, but they treat different health conditions. The label on the medicine should match the prescription. If it doesn't, ask the prescribing provider to clarify their prescription.

Right Documentation

Medical records are an important part of our health care system. These records contain essential patient health information. Federal laws, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), protect this information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more information and fact sheets on HIPAA.

Health professionals must update patient records when they prescribe and administer medications. This information helps future providers avoid medication errors.

Proper documentation also helps fight against substance abuse. In the past, patients could get controlled substances from multiple unknowing providers. Today, providers use databases or prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) to document controlled substance prescriptions. Providers can then avoid duplicating prescriptions.

Advanced Directives

Patients can include their medication preferences in an advanced directive. They can decline certain medications or medical treatments, such as a blood transfusion. This information helps the health care team avoid medication errors.

Patient Responsibilities

Health care providers are responsible for prescribing medications. Pharmacists are responsible for filling a prescription. Patients are responsible for following their instructions.

Here are a few tips to help patients with this responsibility:

  • Give your provider an accurate list of medications you take. Include over-the-counter medications and alternative medicines. This helps avoid drug-drug interactions.
  • Use HIPAA to give providers involved in your medical care access to your information. For example, you can ask your specialist to update your primary care provider.
  • Read your prescription labels and follow all directions and warnings.
  • Only take the dosages that your doctor has approved. Your provider can change the dosage after a follow-up visit if necessary.
  • Never take another person's prescription medication. Prescriptions are specific to the individual.

Generic medications are helpful if you don't have health insurance or health plan coverage.

Get Help

Health care law is complex. If you have questions about your rights or a medication error, speak to a local health care attorney.

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