Scott: Avoid errors when taking medications
Contributing columnist Lenna Scott GRID: Senior column tease pic
Updated: October 11, 2012 12:15PM
Pharmacists and other medical professionals say that there are some simple steps that individuals can take to help protect themselves.
Jim True is the pharmacy director for Omnicare of Northern Illinois, a local pharmacy that specializes in providing medications to long-term care and senior living communities in the area. In addition to his professional expertise, he also has worked with his own grandparents to avoid medication mistakes.
“First, I recommend having a note card with all your medications, dosages and how and when they are taken,” True said. “I did this with my own grandparents. I recommend a note card because in addition to keeping track, you can tuck it in a purse or in a wallet. Then you have that list if there is an emergency.”
True says that an accessible list can help emergency workers or physicians and nurses at the hospital who then would not have to rely on the memory of family members during a crisis. He also advises that having a note card helps when visiting multiple doctors, because it can easily be shared with each physician.
“You should know what you have, why you have it and what to expect when you take it,” True continued. “If you are taking a diuretic, you should know that it may cause you to go to the bathroom more frequently.”
Additionally, he recommends trying to remember what medications look like.
“If you know this medication tends to be a round white pill and then your round white pill becomes an orange round pill, then you can say ‘Hey, is this right?’ It may be the manufacturer changed or it may be that you have been given the wrong medication.”
True says that the biggest medication error for most seniors is either missing a dose or doubling up.
“Most seniors aren’t taking all their medications in one sitting,” True said. “Having a medication organizer — either a weekly organizer, with seven slots, or a daily one that breaks it into several parts of the day — helps to make sure they take their doses. Also there is a visual reminder to show if they have taken everything.”
His favorite medication box has 28 compartments, seven days with four different times for medications during the day.
Finally, some medication errors can be prevented by a diligent pharmacist.
“One recommendation is that you are consistent with what pharmacy you use,” he said. “Whether it’s Walgreens, CVS or a mail-order pharmacy, try to get as much of what you get from the same pharmacy. Consistency is key.”
True says staying with the same pharmacy will allow the pharmacist or the pharmacy system to check for potential medication interactions or dosing issues. He also recommends having that pharmacy add over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements to pharmacy records so that any potential interactions with those items and your prescription medications can be noted.
True also suggests that having family or caregivers involved, especially when there are multiple medications being used, can help to prevent errors.