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Medicine safety - Filling your prescription

Medicine safety means you get the right medicine and the right dose, at the right times. If you take the wrong medicine or too much of it, it could cause serious problems.

Take these steps when getting and filling your prescriptions in order to avoid medicine errors.

Getting a Prescription

Every time you get a new prescription, make sure you:

  • Tell your health care provider about any allergies or side effects, you have had to any medicines in the past.
  • Tell all your providers about all the medicines, supplements, and herbs you take. Bring a list of all these with you to your appointments or better yet, bring the medicines in their containers. Keep this list in your wallet and with you at all times.
  • Ask what each medicine is for and what side effects to watch for.
  • Ask whether the medicine will interact with any foods, drinks, or other medicines.
  • Ask your provider what to do if you forget a dose.
  • Learn the names of all your medicines. Also learn what each medicine looks like.

Filling Your Prescriptions

Your health plan may require you to use certain pharmacies. This means they may not pay for your prescription if you do not use one of their preferred pharmacies. Check with your health plan about which pharmacies you can use. You may have the option to buy your medicines in one or more ways:


Many people use their local pharmacist. One advantage is that you can talk with someone if you have any questions. They can also get to know you and the medicines you take. To help your pharmacist fill your prescription:

  • Make sure all the information is filled in clearly.
  • Bring your insurance card the first time you fill a prescription.
  • When calling the pharmacy for a refill, make sure to give your name, the prescription number, and the name of the medicine.
  • It is best to fill all your prescriptions with the same pharmacy. That way, the pharmacy has a record of all the medicines you are taking. This helps prevent drug interactions.


  • Your medicine may cost less when you order it by mail. However, it may take a week or more for the medicine to get to you.
  • Mail order is best used for long-term medicines you use for chronic problems.
  • Buy short-term medicines and drugs that need to be stored at certain temperatures at a local pharmacy.


Internet pharmacies can be used for long-term medicines and medical supplies. But, be careful when choosing an online pharmacy. There are scam sites that sell fake drugs for cheap.

  • Look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites seal (VIPPS) from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. This seal means the pharmacy has been accredited and meets certain standards.
  • The website should have clear directions for filling or transferring your prescription.
  • Make sure the website has clearly-stated privacy policies and other procedures.
  • Never use any website that claims a provider can prescribe the medicine without seeing you.
  • Make sure your health plan will cover the cost of using the online pharmacy.

Tips to Stay Safe

When you receive your prescription, always:

  • Check the label. Look for your name, the name of the medicine, the dose, and how often you should take it. If something looks unfamiliar, call the pharmacist or your provider.
  • Look at the medicine. Make sure it looks the same as what you have been taking. If it does not, call the pharmacist or your provider. It may look different because it is a generic version or a different brand. However, you should always check to make sure it is the same medicine before you take it.
  • Take and store medicines safely. When taking medicines at home, store them properly, and keep them organized and out of the reach of children. Following a regular medicine routine will also help make sure you get the proper dose at the right time.

When taking medicine:

  • Always take your medicine as directed.
  • Never take someone else's medicine.
  • Never crush or break open pills unless your doctor says it is OK.
  • Never take expired medicine.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you have any unusual or bothersome side effects.

Alternative Names

Medical errors - medicine; Preventing medicine errors


American Academy of Family Medicine website. Getting the most from your OTC medicine. Updated April 22, 2020. Accessed October 13, 2022.

US Food and Drug Administration website. Buying and using medicine safely. Updated February 13, 2018. Accessed October 13, 2022.

Review Date 5/12/2022

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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