Dispensing Advice and Information
By Tony Luppino, R.Ph, Director of Pharmacy, Northern Westchester Hospital
Medications save lives—there’s no question about that. But prescription drugs are powerful substances that, taken at an incorrect quantity, time or mixed with other medications, can be harmful or even deadly.
Unfortunately, medication errors happen. Side effects from prescription mistakes can lead to serious health risks that may result in a trip to the emergency room, and unnecessary hospital trips raise the cost of medical care for everyone. Trouble creeps in when you need multiple prescriptions: It’s easy for the elderly—or even younger people—to forget whether they’ve taken their medications or become confused about prescribing instructions. Protecting yourself requires care—and the help of your doctor and pharmacist.
The health implications of mixing up your medications can be dire. If a diabetic misses a dose of insulin, his or her blood sugar can become too high and this may result in both immediate and long-term serious consequences. Certain medications should be taken with meals, while others can’t be taken too close to mealtime as this may interfere with drug absorption and effectiveness.
The more information you have, the better able you are prevent errors and to take care of yourself. You have to ask your pharmacists, doctors and nurses about your medications, and you have to expect answers. If you have any chronic illnesses, pick up one of the consumer guides about medications at your pharmacy, bookstore or from the library. Your pharmacist should give you printed information about your medication. Be sure to educate yourself about your illnesses and the medications you are taking. What you learn now will help protect you later.
I also believe in sticking with one pharmacist and building a good relationship with that person. Your pharmacist can be your partner in preventing medication errors. Find one who offers services to monitor your therapy and keeps a complete, electronic record of all your medications and chronic medical conditions. Make sure to inform your pharmacist of all over-the-counter medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal products. With this information in one place, your pharmacist can help to protect you against harmful drug interactions, duplicate medications and other potential problems.
When buying over-the-counter medications, read the labels carefully because they might contain ingredients you do not want or should not take. Maybe they will interact with your other medications, cause an allergic reaction, or not be correct for your symptoms. Ask your pharmacist for help if you have trouble selecting the right product.
There are countless ways to track your prescriptions electronically, such as with apps like Med Helper or through Consumer Reports’ My Medication Tracker. If electronic methods don’t work for you consider a written log. Make yourself a medication administration record. On lined paper, make a column on the left side of all your medications. Across the top, put the days of the week and populate the times of administration. Write down on each day when—and with what—you should take your medication. After you take a dose, put a checkmark next to that entry.
The bottom line—be involved with your care: Your doctors, nurses and pharmacists work hard to keep you healthy, but you are also responsible. Learn what questions to ask. Expect answers—it’s your life and your health!
What You Need to Know
Before you leave the doctor’s office and the pharmacy make sure you understand the answers to these questions:
Why am I taking it? What is it for?
What side effects should I expect, and what should I do if they happen?
What are the brand and generic names of the medications?
What does it look like?
How much should I take, and how often?
When is the best time to take it?
How long will I need to take it?
What should I do if I miss a dose?
Does this interact with my other medications or any foods?
Does this replace anything else I was taking?
Where and how do I store it?