A surprising number of people have little idea about their medications. Yes, they may know that the doctor ordered something for their stomach, or they can tell you that they’re supposed to take the red pill in the morning and the white one at night, but may not know the names of their drugs, the dosage, what it is used for or what side effects to watch for. Medication errors can easily occur when you lack a basic knowledge of your medicines, especially if you are being treated for multiple diagnoses and have a myriad of drugs. Here are some tips that will address medication safety and will help you get the most from your medications.
DO: Know your medications
There really is no need for ignorance when it comes to your medications. Plenty of information is available to help you gain a better understanding of your medicines, not only from your prescribing physician but also from the patient information sheets and package inserts provided by your pharmacist. Virtually any medication can be searched online as well on such websites as Drugwatch and Web MD. Try to gain a better understanding of what you are taking and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
DO: Get organized
For patients that are forgetful, a daily or weekly pill box is a handy device , especially for those with multiple medications. These can be purchased at drugstores and are quite inexpensive. Also available are electronic medication alarms and reminders. While these are helpful they are also more expensive. You may need someone to fill the containers for you if you are not able to do it correctly.
DO: Let the doctor know if you are having any side effects
Most medications have at least some side effects because of the chemical nature of the drug. Each person may react differently to the medication. There are times you may be allergic to a new medication and serious or life-threatening side effects can occur. To keep side effects at a minimum your doctor has to consider other medications you are taking and determine if the new prescription added to your regime will be compatible with your other medications. The physician should discuss with you what side effects to expect, if any. If you are noticing any unusual symptoms you should report it to the doctor immediately.
DO: Keep a list of your current meds
Whether or not you trust your memory regarding your medications it is a good idea to make a list of all your medications including the names and doses. Include non-prescription drugs such as over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements. Also write down all your allergies on your list, and write down the name of the doctor which prescribed each medication and their contact information. This is very helpful when you have more than one treating physician. Each doctor can see at a glance everything you are taking and who prescribed it. According to Today’s Caregiver, those over age 65 take more medicine than any other age group and usually have multiple physicians. Write down this list and keep it in your purse or wallet. Another copy can be kept on your refrigerator or given to the person assisting you with your care. Keep your medication list updated and delete discontinued medications as needed.
DO: Properly store your medications
Medications need to be properly stored. Not all medications can be stored on a shelf in the bathroom cabinet. Actually, this location might be one of the worse places for you to put your pill bottles because of the moisture. Some medications have to be refrigerated. Some have to be kept in special containers or dark bottles, and all need to be out of the reach of young children. According to Caremark, humidity, light and heat can all affect the life of your medication. Storing meds in a cool, dark, dry place is best. Be conscientious and consistent in where you store the pill bottles so you will know where they are when you need them.
DON’T take another person’s medications
Medications are prescribed for you, not for others. Many factors helps a physician determine what medicines a patient needs and what dose to dispense. It is unsafe to take drugs ordered for someone else even if you think it might work for you. Likewise, don’t give your medicines to someone else.
DON’T take expired medicine
Keep an eye on expiration dates for all medicines, even over-the-counter drugs. Medicines have expiration dates usually because there comes a time when the chemicals in the drugs will degrade, rendering the medication less effective. Be sure to properly discard any expired medications.
DON’T skip doses
Some patients hit and miss when it comes to their medication regime. Some patients simply forget to take the medicine. Sometimes doses are missed if the patient notices they are running low on the medication and are trying to “stretch” it until they can afford the get a refill. Regardless of the reason, the medicine cannot be as effective as it should be if it’s not taken as the doctor ordered it. Skipping doses, cutting doses in half or doubling doses, etc, will all cause problems and can be dangerous to your overall health. If you realize you have missed a dose, check with your doctor whether or not it is safe to “make up” the missed dose. If you have chosen to stop taking a certain drug for any reason, let the doctor know.
Today’s Caregiver: “Keeping track of medication safely”
Ohio State University Medical Center: “Manage your medications”
Caring 4 Cancer: “Understanding the package insert”
Caremark: “Ills and conditions: storing your medicine”