Thursday, January 31, 2008


Patients play a major role in medication safety

Medications are powerful things. When used properly they cure diseases, heal wounds, prevent heart attacks and strokes, and prolong life. When misused they can cause injury, disease and even become lethal.

Medication safety is much more then just taking your medications as prescribed, it’s about getting the maximum benefit from them with the least amount of risk. Many people are surprised to know this, but you have more control over medication safety then even your doctor.

In order to get the maximum benefit from the medications that you are prescribed, you need to understand many things beyond what dose to take and how many times a day to take it. When is the best time of the day to take your medication? Can I take some of these medications at the same time? What should you do if you forget a dose? What side effects go away after a short time and which side effects do I need to call my doctor about? When should I start to feel better? What if I don’t feel better? What over-the-counter medications should I now avoid?

Although that sounds like a lot of information, it is really only the basics that everyone should know about all of the medications they take. You should also know why you are taking each medication and how it works. Many medications can be used for different conditions; your pharmacist will need to know why you are taking the prescribed medication so they can properly counsel you. Knowing how a medication works will help you understand the side effects that may occur and how to best manage them before you can get in touch with your doctor.

Did you know that medication safety also includes saving money? Mistakes can be costly. Missing just a few doses of an antibiotic can lead to a treatment failure which may need even more costly medications to treat. Improperly taking your cholesterol medication will decrease its effectiveness and may lead to needing two drugs instead of one to control it.

All of the above may seem to be an overwhelming amount of information to learn, but you don’t have to memorize it all. In fact the best thing to do is to keep a small notebook or file with this information. When your physician gives you a new prescription, ask him or her the above questions and write them down. When you get the drug information printout from the pharmacy, ask the pharmacist to highlight the important information and keep the printouts in a small file. Finally, always keep an updated and detailed list of your medications with you that can be given to all your healthcare providers so they are aware of exactly what you are taking and why.

A detailed list including the drug name, dose, how many times a day you take it, and the reason why. A list is the best way to ensure this information is safely and correctly communicated -- especially if you are out of town and need medical assistance or are being admitted to a hospital.

If you would like some help preparing a list or getting answers to the above questions, Backus Hospital will be hosting a “Brown-Bag” program on Wednesday, Feb. 20 from 7:30-11:15 a.m. in its entry level conference rooms. You can bring all of your medications and herbal products with you and sit with a pharmacist to discuss any questions or issues you have. They will also help you fill out a detailed medication list. To schedule a time, call 823-6374.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?