By Virginia Smyth
Following instructions is just one step on the road to medication safety.
Have you ever taken a medication differently than directed? Or gotten home from the pharmacy only to notice that the name of the medicine on your pill bottle is different from the one your doctor prescribed?
Medication errors can happen and are a result of various factors, says Group Health pharmacist Diane Schultz, medication safety manager. Systems are in place at Group Health pharmacies to minimize mistakes, but many medication mishaps occur outside of the pharmacy. We recently asked Schultz to troubleshoot some common medication issues.
I'm taking five different medications and can't remember when I'm supposed to take which ones.
This is a common dilemma for people who take multiple medications. One solution is to place all of your medications for the week in a medication box that has separate sections for different times of the day and days of the week. Look for these boxes at Group Health pharmacies and community drugstores. Some people prefer to ask a family member or caregiver to prepare their medication boxes to ensure correct placement of the pills.
I don't feel bad so why should I take this pill?
There is usually not an immediate payoff when you take a pill — you don't feel healthier. This is especially true for silent conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol. With some medications, such as antidepressants, it can take weeks or months for patients to feel the benefit. The best solution is for patients to understand the purpose and benefit of each prescription. If you're unsure, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain.
I'm short on money so I'm going to make my medication last longer by splitting each pill in half or taking every other dose.
With this economy, people are not filling their prescriptions as often or they're not taking their pills as directed. As a result, they may not get the full benefit of their medicines and a negative cycle can be set in motion. Patients may hesitate to tell their doctor that they're not taking medications as directed, which means doctors give medical advice based on the wrong drug doses. If lab tests are done, the results may lead the doctor to increase the dose. The patient then takes the higher dose and gets too much of the drug, which can have harmful consequences. The bottom line: Always tell your doctor the truth about how you are taking your medicines.
I often take aspirin for a variety of things but I don't feel that it's necessary to mention this to my doctor.
It's important to tell your doctor about all medications and supplements you are taking. Non-prescription drugs, herbs, and supplements can interact with prescription medications, sometimes negatively. For example, aspirin and the herb ginkgo biloba can increase bleeding — a problem if the patient is taking a prescribed blood thinner like Coumadin or Plavix. It's safer to tell your doctor about everything you're taking, even if it seems unlikely it could interact with a prescription medication.