How to Take Medicine Safely and Correctly
Stay Informed, Stay Safe!
On average, individuals 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year, individuals aged 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year. 28% of hospitalization among people aged more than 65 years old are due to medication related interactions or side effects. Medication usage and consumption has become a large part of the American healthcare system and that trend is set to continue as more baby boomers enter the geriatric population. As such, there are a few things that all patients should be aware of to make sure that they use medications properly, safely and correctly.
General Guide on Medications
Talking To Your Doctor
The older generation grew up in a culture that was often fearful of the doctor and the doctor-patient relationship was one of a paternal relationship, where the doctor told the patient what to do and the patient did not question the doctor. That has to change to enable to patient to communicate with the doctor. As a patient, your health is precious and it is your right to talk to your physician to ensure that the treatments, goals and medications he prescribes to you are appropriate. Many times I encounter patients who come to the pharmacy from their doctor's office and have no idea what their doctor prescribed them or what they even said. They end up asking me questions on medications, treatments, and their health problems.
That shows that there is a lack of communication, for whatever reason, between the provider and the patient. So I encourage patients to talk to the doctor, make it your business to understand. There is nothing wrong with asking the doctor to repeat what they said, make it more understandable or offer you printed materials to read at home. If your doctor is giving you a medication, make sure you ask why he is giving you the medication, what his goals are and what the medication is. Know your medicine by name, it is very important to know what you are taking and to communicate that to any other doctors, pharmacists and healthcare professionals you encounter.
How your Pharmacist can help
Talk to Your Pharmacist
Pharmacists are a very important resource that any patient can use. Many times, patients are in a rush and leave the pharmacy without asking questions or getting clarification. Pharmacists provide essential services to counsel the patient on the proper usage of medications, proper precautions to take while on medications, what to watch out for, any interactions, or side effects to be aware of and how to avoid them or minimize the occurrence of side effects. As a patient, you should ask your pharmacist what the medication is for, or why you visited the doctor so your pharmacist can verify if the medication you are receiving is for that medical condition or indication. Sometimes, doctors make errors - even with the electronic prescriptions where data can be transmitted wrong - or a non-medical personnel like a secretary calls in a prescription on behalf of a doctor and may call in the wrong medication. So always double check your medication name to make sure it matches what your doctor said he was giving you in the office and if any doubts exist, ask to speak to the pharmacist.
Pharmacies are on the front line of public health. Many times patients forget to tell the doctor if they are going to other doctors for medications or taking over the counter medications (OTCs) or herbal products. One major way to ensure safe medication use is to ensure that you get all your medications at the same pharmacy. This will help the pharmacist check on all your medicines to make sure that there are no drug interactions or the combination of medications you are on are safe. When picking up medications, it is always a good idea to tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are taking OTC or herbal products as many of them interact with prescription medications. Some products to be careful with is St. John’s wort, Ginseng, Green tea, Grapefruit juice, Ma-huan, Red Yeast Rice, Ginkgo biloba and Dong quai. Your pharmacist can help do a proper safety evaluation for any herbal or OTC product by going to your pharmacy and showing the bottle, or telling them the name of the product you are taking.
Herbal Products - Safe?
Keep Track, Follow Directions, Ask Questions
Often patients are on multiple medications and it is quiet easy to get confused between the different medications. Relying on medicine color, pill shape or how big the tablet is to identify your medicine is a bad way to keep track of your medications and will eventually lead to an error. Know your medicine by either the brand or the generic name, write it down if you cannot pronounce it. A good idea is to keep a medication record sheet or a medication log book (available at many pharmacists for free) to keep track of your medications. Bring these record sheets or log books every time you change doctors or go to a new doctor. It would also help hospital and clinic staff provide you the care you need right away if they know what medicine you are currently on.
It is important to follow directions for every medication. If a medicine label tells you to "take one tablet by mouth once daily" then that means you take one tablet every 24 hours at the same time. So for example, if you took your Levaquin antibiotic at 1 PM after lunch, then you take the tablet every 24 hours at 1 PM until you finish the medication. It is easier to follow medication directions using smartphones to get alerts and reminders so you know when to take your medication and to take it on time. For syrups or liquid medications, it is common to have a direction like "take one teaspoonful (5 ml) by mouth once daily." Patients take a household teaspoon and drink that but that can often be incorrect. Teaspoon sizes vary due to various cultural and geographical influences leading to variations in dosages. A standard teaspoon should deliver 5 milliliter of medicine but that is hard to estimate. So take the guessing out of the equation and buy a graduated measuring device which are available for free or for low cost at many pharmacies. With children's medications, do not guess if something is 2.5 ml or 3/4 of a teaspoon or 11/3 of a teaspoon. Buy a measuring device to ensure accurate and proper dosage as some medications can be extremely harmful if you overdose a child.
Finally, ask questions! If you think something is not correct, there is nothing wrong with asking your doctor or pharmacist for clarification. In fact, pharmacists encourage patients to ask questions to help optimize medical care and prevent errors. Many pharmacies offer free consultation services to help you identify medications and ensure you are taking your medicine properly. Take advantage of such free services to ensure the safety and well being of your loved ones.
Keeping Children Safe
Proper Storage and Disposal
Medicine, just like your groceries or household items, need to be properly stored or they will go bad. Medications tend to absorb moisture relatively quickly which will quicken the chemical breakdown of the drug. So store your prescription in a cool, dry place. A ideal place is your bedroom where temperatures are generally well controlled and there is little moisture in the air. Worst places to keep your medicine is in the bathroom medicine cabinet or your kitchen cabinet as temperature shift rapidly in those environments and air moisture levels are unpredictable. Some medications need to be stored in the light resistant vials that your pharmacy gives you so ask your pharmacist before taking medicine out of your pharmacy vials and storing them in your pill box or elsewhere. Medications that need to be refrigerated must be stored in the fridge and not frozen.
Storing medications safely is important to prevent accidental ingestion by children. If you have children, ask your pharmacist to use safety caps on your medication vials. Store such medications on a higher shelf or higher cabinet to prevent children from reaching such areas. If you suspect that your child has ingested any medication, call a poison control center immediately and seek medication attention.
Medications can be disposed at collection facilities and on your town collection days. If you are unaware of such opportunities, please talk to your pharmacist to get more information. Generally, police departments and hospitals conduct regular medication collection days for expired, wasted or controlled medications. Medications that are known as "controlled" or scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) need to be disposed safely. These medications have a high possibility of addiction and thieves tend to steal these medications whenever they can. Do not flush mediation down the toilet. Always dispose medications by removing your name and label information from the medication vial, mix the tablets in with coffee grinds or cat litter or dog food then throwing it out with the regular garbage.
- Medical Product Safety Information - FDA
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- CDC - Medication Safety Program
This website provides information, initiatives, programs, and resources to patients and caregivers about preventing adverse drug events caused by medications.
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