Any medication can be dangerous under the wrong circumstances. Ensuring the best management of a home care client’s medication needs is important, for client health and safety as well as the best interests of home care businesses.
Medication and dosage errors are a common allegation when it comes to claims and lawsuits filed against home care businesses. Without the right safety procedures in place, employees risk allegations of negligence or mismanagement of care that can have negative implications for clients as well as companies.
Lawsuits can be costly and damaging, even if employees did do everything correctly. The best defense against accusations of caregiver medication mismanagement is to take proactive steps to minimize your risk of a mistake.
Here are 10 tips caregiver employees can use to help reduce the risk of client medication management errors.
1. Follow Storage Best Practices
Proper storage of medication is an important part of client safety. The wrong conditions can cause drug deterioration and poor organization can contribute to missed doses, adverse drug interactions or ingestion by children or pets.
To Do: Be sure to keep all prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements in one central location, such as a high kitchen cupboard. Note any medications that need to be stored separately, such as in the refrigerator. Avoid bathroom storage where excessive moisture and heat can affect potency. Store medicated ointments and creams separate from those taken by mouth.
2. Keep an Up-to-Date List
Caregivers should have quick access to an up-to-date list of all the client’s medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements. A current list can help prevent negative drug interactions before they happen and quickly aid doctors and pharmacists in the event of an emergency.
To Do: For each item of medication, list the drug’s name, dosing schedule, dosage amount, symptoms it is intended to treat, whether it is for short- or long-term usage, and the contact information of the prescribing physician.
3. Read Labels and Documentation
Medication labels and documentation contain important information that help ensure medication is properly administered, drug effectiveness is optimal, any key side effects are recognized, and dangerous interactions are avoided.
To Do: Check to ensure the client has no known allergy to any of the ingredients. Note any special dosing instructions, such as taking pills on an empty or full stomach. Be aware of common side effects. Contact a supervisor if there are questions about a medication, side effects or potential interactions.
4. Check for Drug Interactions
Drug interactions can be serious and are a frequent source of claims in the health care industry. The wrong combination of substances taken together can lessen the effectiveness of a treatment or lead to medication-related injuries.
To Do: Always pay attention to the warning label on any new prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, vitamin or supplement. Contact a supervisor to advise you if a contraindication is discovered. Also, note any dietary restrictions of foods that should be avoided, such as grapefruit or alcohol.
5. Follow Dosing Instructions
Dosing instructions are carefully determined by doctors, pharmacists and drug manufacturers. Dosing errors can worsen symptoms, cause side effects and contribute to new illness, and frequently result in claims.
To Do: Read all dosing instructions to become familiar with the client’s treatment plan. Monitor to help ensure the client does not exceed the recommended daily dosage of any prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, vitamin or supplement. If a client’s symptom is not treated by the correct dosing, contact a supervisor to advise.
6. Prepare Dosages Ahead
Preparing dosages ahead can be beneficial if a client regularly takes more than one medication. Having medications ready for the whole day or the whole week can help ensure the client takes all of their medication as prescribed.
To Do: Use a pill box to organize multiple doses per day throughout the day or week. Cut pills which need to be halved ahead of time so you or the client doesn’t need to worry with a pill cutter when it’s time for the next dose. Monitor pill boxes to help ensure the client doesn’t get ahead or fall behind on dosing.
7. Plan for Medication Reminders
Clients who are older or in poor health may have a long list of daily medications and have trouble remembering to take their pills. Forgetting to take a pill can lead to skipped doses, while forgetting a pill has already been taken can result in doubled doses. Both can cause health issues and may lead to a claim.
To Do: Determine a system to help clients remember to take their medications. Consider using mobile phone app reminders, alarm clock reminders, meal-time reminders, or paper list reminders. Match the system to meet the needs and abilities of the client.
8. Assist Memory Care Patients
A client who is unable to manage their own medication is dependent on caretakers to ensure the correct medications are taken as directed. Medication management errors that contribute to the illness or death of a client are likely to result in a claim.
To Do: Give special attention to the medication management of clients who are memory care patients. Keep a list or chart of the client’s daily medication doses and check off each one as it’s administered. Ensure other caretakers know to document when a dose is given.
9. Monitor for Side Effects
Side effects are common with many medications. Often a medication change will correlate with the appearance of new symptoms. While routine side effects can be managed, the potential for serious side effects should not be ruled out. Note that some side effects may increase the risk of a fall.
To Do: Familiarize yourself with the medications a client is taking and the potential side effects listed in its documentation. Monitor for changes after any medication change. Document any new symptoms that could be a side effect of medication. Contact a supervisor if there are questions about side effects.
10. Plan Ahead for Refills
Assisting clients with their prescription refills is common in the home care setting. Caregivers should monitor the supplies of key medications and the expiration dates of prescriptions to minimize the chance of running out and missing doses.
To Do: Note the supply of pills during the dispensing of medications. Check the labels on bottles for remaining refills and expiring prescriptions. Assist clients with ordering refills or contacting their physician for authorization, if needed. Also note the expiration dates on over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements, and have the client replace any that have expired.
Protect Your Home Care Business
Medication management errors are a frequent source of claims, but the right steps can help reduce the risk for your business. Be sure employees always follow current guidance on medication management, document and report problems and ask questions as needed.
Unfortunately, even when home care employees follow all the rules and do everything right, there is still a chance a medical management error claim could occur. Reduce the risk posed to your business by making sure you are protected with the right professional liability insurance.