Protect Your Child from Medical Errors

Medical errors are one of the leading causes of death and injury for American adults, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine. A medical error can happen when something that was planned for medical care doesn't work, or when the wrong plan was used in the first place, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Hospitals, healthcare providers, and government agencies are working to reduce errors. And there is a lot parents can do to protect their children from dangerous medical errors.

It's important for parents to be involved. Parents must ask questions and educate themselves about their child's conditions and treatments. Parents can play an important role in protecting their child's health and life.

Educate yourself

Learn as much as you can:

About medicines

Be on top of your child’s medicines:

  • Mention your child's medicine allergies every time they are given a medicine in a healthcare provider's office or hospital. Also mention your child's other medical problems. Ask if the medicine is OK to take with other prescription medicines, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, and other cures.

  • Make sure all your child's providers know all the medicines the child takes. This includes prescription and OTC medicines, vitamins, minerals, and herbs.

  • When you pick up your child's medicine from the pharmacy, ask, "Is this the medicine my child's healthcare provider prescribed?" Most medicine errors involve the wrong medicine or the wrong dose.

  • Ask that information about your child's medicines be given to you in words you can understand. Do this when the medicines are prescribed and when you get them at the hospital or pharmacy. Know the name of the medicine, what it's for, how much your child should take, and how often. Also know the possible side effects. Is it safe for the child to take with other medicine? What food, drink, or activities should the child stay away from while taking this medicine?

  • If you have any questions about the directions on your child's medicine labels, ask. Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For instance, ask if "4 doses daily" means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

  • Ask your pharmacist for the best way to measure your child's liquid medicine. You shouldn't use household teaspoons for measuring medicines. This is because they often don't hold a true teaspoon of liquid.

About treatment and hospitalization

Know why your child is getting treatment or being hospitalized:

  • Ask your child's healthcare provider if the treatment is based on the latest scientific evidence.

  • Make sure you know who is in charge of your child's care. This is especially important if your child has many health problems or is in the hospital.

  • If your child is having surgery, make sure you, the child's healthcare provider, and the surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done. And choose a hospital where many children have the same surgery. The providers and staff will have more experience with the specific needs of children. While in the hospital, make sure the child always wears an identification bracelet.

  • When your child is let out of the hospital, ask the healthcare provider to explain how to care for them at home. This includes learning about your child's medicines and finding out when they can get back to regular activities.

  • Make sure all health professionals involved in your child's care in the hospital have important information. Be sure they know if your child has medicine allergies or a chronic condition. Don't assume the healthcare provider or nurse knows everything they need to know.