GHS Cares: Ensuring Medication Safety
Medication errors are a major concern for prescribing doctors. My grandmother who was a nurse and lived into her 90’s used to remind me that “medications are poison if not used properly.” I think of her organized and cautious approach when patients express concern about medications, as adverse drug events are not uncommon. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a program devoted to reducing emergency room and doctor visits from medication errors. According to the CDC, 82% of Americans take at least one medication, and nearly one third of Americans take five or more medications.
Tip #1 Know your medications.
While some medications may be a little hard to pronounce, it is strongly recommended that you keep your original medication bottles and bring them with you when you see your doctor. Keep an updated list of all your medications, including dosage, frequency and the reason for each medicine. Be sure to include all over-the-counter vitamins or supplements, too. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or pharmacist questions about how and when it’s best to take medications or to let your doctor’s office know if a medication is expensive or difficult to afford. It is also encouraged to ask your physician about whether a medication or dosage can be stopped or reduced.
Tip #2 Use a pill box.
One of the most common errors is forgetting a dose or taking an extra dose. This can be avoided by using a pill box with days of the week, so you can see clearly which doses have been taken or not. If you are in the one third of Americans taking five or more medicines, a pill box can make it much easier to organize medications. Some pill boxes come with multiple compartments for different times of day, and others even have a clock with closed compartments that open with a timer. Another helpful purpose is seeing the quantity of medication and having time to call your pharmacy or doctor’s office when a refill is needed. Just don’t forget to keep all the original bottles!
Tip #3 Store medications properly.
Medications are not meant to be stored in hot and humid areas, so the bathroom is usually not the best place to store them. Try to find a secure place which is cool and dry to keep your medicines. Keep them out of sight and reach from pets and children. Do not share your prescriptions with anybody else. If your medication is a controlled substance, I recommend keeping it in a locked box or drawer. In case there is an accidental ingestion, keep the Poison Control number 1-800-222-1222 with your medicines, or program it in your phone for easy access.
Tip #4 Dispose of your medications safely.
If you have leftover medications, never flush them down the toilet. The best way to dispose of medications is to use a “take back” envelope or box, or to bring them to your doctor or pharmacist.
Tip #4 Watch for side effects.
It is recommended not to make more than one medication change at a time so you can be aware of how new medications affect you. If you’ve never taken a medication before, it may be safest to take the first dose when you won’t have to do anything too strenuous, such as driving or working. As primary care physicians, we always try to let our patients know about major side effects, however nearly every drug comes with a long list of rarer side effects that are not usually covered. Keep notes if you notice anything unusual, including the time you took the medicine and the time you noticed the symptom, so you can give your doctor a good history if it continues. If you feel you are experiencing a serious side effect, such as vomiting or feeling faint, stop the medicine and contact your prescriber’s office.
Tip #5 Some things don’t mix well.
Many things can alter your medications, such as alcohol, other medications or supplements, and even grapefruit juice. If you take more than five medications daily, there is a good chance you should limit alcohol and grapefruit juice to no more than one glass a day. Your doctor or pharmacist will usually mention if there is anything specific which should be avoided. But again, if you notice any unusual symptoms, you might also consider making notes if you have anything unusual to eat or drink that day in addition to your medication and symptom notes.
We spend years learning how medications work to help control chronic diseases like depression, high blood pressure, and even prevent strokes and heart attacks. Medications are miraculous, and usually they are more helpful than not. Yet, I hope you will remember my grandmother’s cautionary advice and take care with your medications! As physicians at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, we welcome your medication questions and will always try to do what we can to keep you informed about medication safety.
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.
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