What happens when you’re in the hospital and a nurse hands you the wrong drug to swallow? What about when a nurse injects too large of a dose of something into your IV?

Unfortunately — for about 1.3 million Americans a year — those questions aren’t just speculative. They’re the victims of medications errors — accidents that are wholly preventable when someone takes the time to make certain that they’re giving the right drug to the right patient, at the right time and the right dosage. Any failure to do that is actually a serious form of medical malpractice.

How can you avoid becoming a victim? By being a proactive patient or caregiver (if the patient isn’t able to do this alone):

  1. Bring a list of all your medications with you. Include the quantity, the dosage, the time of day taken and the reason for each prescription. The time is particularly important with certain drugs like blood thinners, which can’t be missed or delayed without risk.
  2. Include any herbal supplements, vitamins or other over-the-counter medications on your medication list. They can interact with prescription medications in unexpected ways.
  3. Have another list of any medication allergies. Include information about what allergic reaction you had, whether it was hives, trouble breathing or some other condition. Make sure that all drug allergies are noted in your chart.
  4. Monitor the medications you receive. Never blindly swallow anything a nurse hands you. Look at the pills and make sure that you recognize them. If you don’t, ask the nurse to check the bottle to make sure that you have the right drug. Similarly, make sure the nurse looks at the label on any injections before giving it to you.
  5. Ask for clarification before allowing changes. If a change in medication is ordered, make sure that someone explains why the change is being made, what he or she hopes to accomplish and what potential side effects you could experience.

While an attorney can advocate for you if you become injured through medical negligence, you’re always better off if you can avoid a problem in the first place. Many people are afraid of being seen as a difficult patient, but it’s far better to do that than end up victimized by someone’s mistake.