With the many media reports of wrong-site surgeries, hospital infections, medication errors and other medical mistakes, the prospect of seeking medical care can be a frightening one. Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to protect yourself or your loved one from a medical error that could cause serious injury or even death.

Unfortunately, medication errors are quite common among patients with all kinds of ailments and health care needs. Many of these errors are completely avoidable through better communication between the patient, the doctor and the pharmacist. For example, if your doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read it. If you can’t, your pharmacist probably won’t be able to either.

Make sure both your doctor and pharmacist knows about your current medications, including vitamins and herbs. It may be helpful to actually bring all of your medications to your doctor visit. Also, tell the doctor about any allergies or adverse reactions you have had to medicine in the past.

In addition to providing information, make sure to ask for it as well, in terms you are able to understand. Ask your doctor and pharmacist when, how, and for how long you are supposed to take the medication, ask about side effects and what to do if they occur, and ask about any other information on the medication label that you do not understand. You may even want to ask the pharmacist for the best device with which to measure your liquid medicine. And, if necessary, follow up.

Most of us hesitate to ask for detailed information about medication because we don’t want to annoy or irritate the doctor or pharmacist. But when your health is on the line, you need to be persistent to ensure that you get the best possible care and avoid any unnecessary errors.

Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors