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Medication Safety

Medications contain powerful ingredients that cause changes in your body. It is essential to use them correctly. Your doctor, nurse and pharmacist are trained to use your medication safely. But you, as a patient or family member, are the most important member of the health care team. You share the responsibility for safe medication use.

What you can do while in the hospital

  • Ask for the brand and generic name of the medication and the reason you are taking it. Ask about side effects and if there is any information you can have about the medication.
  • If you do not recognize a medication, verify that it is for you. Ask about all oral and IV medications before they are given to you.
  • If you are given an IV, ask the nurse how long it should take the liquid to “run out.” Tell the nurse if it does not appear to be dripping properly (too fast or too slow).

What you can ask your care provider

  • What is the name of the medicine? Is this the brand or generic name? Can I take a generic version?
  • What does the medication do and how will I know when it is working?
  • Are there side effects? What do I do if they occur?
  • Are there any tests I need to take while taking this medicine?
  • Does the new medication replace anything I am already taking?
  • What do I do if I miss a dose? Do I need to take the entire prescription or may I stop if I feel better?
  • How do I take the medicine and how often? Does “take it three times a day” mean breakfast, lunch and dinner or does it mean every 8 hours?

What you can ask your pharmacist

  • Should I avoid alcohol, certain foods or activities while taking this medication?
  • How will this medication interact with my other medications including over-the-counter and herbal medicines?
  • Could I have written information about the medicine? May I have it in large print or in a language other than English?

What you can do at home

  • Have a complete list of your medicines and allergies where others can find it in case of emergency. Include all prescriptions, over-the-counter and home remedies, herbal medicines, including herbal tea, vitamins and weight gain or loss products. Bring a copy of this list with you to the hospital.
  • Show this list to your family doctors, your pharmacist and others involved with your health care at every visit.
  • Try to use the same pharmacy or drug store for all your prescriptions so your pharmacist has a complete record of all your medications and can give you the best advice.
  • Keep your medication out of reach of children or pets.
  • Keep your medication in the original container. EXCEPTION: If your doctor or pharmacist suggests a weekly medication box, ask how to use it. Some medications should not be stored together or need special storage.
  • Safely dispose of all medications that are outdated or have not been used in a while. Avoid throwing in the trash or flushing into wastewater. A number of locations, including the UM Health-West Cancer Center Pharmacy, private pharmacies and police departments, handle disposal of unused medications. Find a location near you at
  • Get medical help right away if you develop itching or swelling or have trouble breathing after taking a new medication.