Using a Power of Attorney to Prevent Medication Errors

Being an effective caregiver for a loved one often involves many responsibilities, and one thing those looking after a family member must be aware of is medication errors. Mistakes with a person’s medication are thought to cause 7,000 deaths annually with about one million medication errors happening yearly in hospitals. Here are some tips for when someone you are caring for has a hospital stay coming up.

Learn the Facts

Those with a power of attorney may need to do several things to ensure they know enough about the health of the person they are looking after. This includes basics like understanding the person’s current health situation and reviewing all the medication the loved one is taking and possible side effects. Knowing all the relevant details about a loved one’s condition enables you to pass accurate information along. An easy way to do this with medication is by typing up and printing out copies of the most up to date medication list your charge is taking. Include things like:

  • Generic and brand name
  • Dose strength
  • Time medication is taken and how often
  • Any special instructions

Double Check

To avoid medication mistakes when entering a hospital, you can watch the admitting physician enter the patient’s medication list into the hospital system. While this may feel like you are being overprotective, you are doing your job by seeing that the list is correctly entered. If there is a problem, you can work to make it right immediately so that your loved one is not given the wrong medication.

Due Diligence

A less obvious task includes making sure that a doctor’s recommendations are followed, and this is often forgotten because many people assume a doctor’s orders will be carried out. However, paperwork mistakes and a different staff can mean that a patient moving from the hospital to an assisted living facility might not get the care that they need. Ultimately, do not assume anything and instead make sure that everything that is supposed to happen is actually happening.

Taking Charge

The agent with a POA can step in to fill the gaps that may arise by meeting with health care professionals, giving them all the necessary information, asking questions and overseeing everything. For example, the agent can get an updated medication list when a loved one is leaving the hospital and go over it with a hospital discharge representative to learn about what should be taken after the hospital stay and why. If there is a difference between medications before admittance to the hospital and afterwards, find out why. Ask the representative to include the answer in the discharge instructions.

Returning From the Hospital

Similar to reviewing with the hospital representative, go over the prescription list with the nursing staff when your loved one returns to a care facility. The nursing staff will typically call the primary care provider and then you can check in later to ensure the physician addressed everything. If your loved one lives alone or with family, you need to call the physician and explain the new prescription list and verify that the physician understands and can address the changes.

Minnesota residents might need a durable power of attorney so that a trusted individual can make health care decisions when one cannot make decisions for oneself. One might need a health care directive or living will with a power of attorney as the POA gives the agent the authority to act while the living will describes the other person’s preferences for health care and end-of-life care. You may want to consult an attorney when drafting these documents. Contact us to learn more when you are working on estate planning or a caregiver for a relative or loved one.

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