Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Organizing Prescription Medications: 5 Quick Fixes for Common Problems

Medication Management: 
Reduce Your Risk of Common Errors

As a home health speech pathologist, I can say I've seen a lot of things, up to and including a naked man... he wanted to know if I could provide his therapy while he was nude. 

Uh, no. 

Luckily, I don't run into many situations where patients want to wear their birthday suits to therapy, but I often run into another, more serious problem:  medication errors.



Here are some of the facts according to a recent study performed the National Institutes of Health:

  • 40% of seniors take 5 or more prescription medications
  • 90% of people 65 and older take at least 1 prescription medication
  • 55% of seniors take their medications incorrectly

Understanding that most elderly people take medications, and knowing they don't always do it correctly, let's look a little closer at the reasons why mistakes are made and how they can be better managed. 

Top 5 Medication Errors
For Patients At Home:
Problems Solved

Problem:  being over-medicated or under-medicated 
If a person is taking too much or not enough of a prescribed medication, a therapeutic dose cannot be maintained. The consequences can range from minor inconvenience all the way to serious illness...even death.

Regularly reconcile your medications with your physician by comparing your current medication orders to all of the medication you have been taking. This helps to reduce mistakes such as omissions, dosing errors and/or drug interactions

Problem:  polypharmacy
Polypharmacy occurs when a patient takes multiple drugs for one or more conditions- usually a large number of medications prescribed by different providers. Not only can numerous medications can be difficult for patients, caregivers and family members to manage, serious side effects can occur as a result of taking too many at once.

Inform your doctor of all of the medications you are taking and review them at every transition of care. For instance, a drug review should take place with a change in setting, service, practitioner and/or level of care. 

Problem: confusion
Sometimes, even with the greatest care, mistakes are made  because pills cannot be identified due to similar size, shape or color, doses are unclear, or the reason for the medication is unknown. No matter the cause, patients may become confused.

Keep a complete, up to date list of all your medications, taking care to save the information sheets that come with them. Ask your pharmacist about any questions you may have. When picking up, make sure the prescription is the one your doctor ordered. 

Problem:  containers are complicated
For older eyes, print on bottles can be difficult to read. Generic and brand names of medications are confused and result in mistakes. Dosing schedules may be unclear. Safety caps are not easily removed.

Use enlarged print to mark existing labels regarding purpose and/or administration of each medication (PAIN:  1 EVERY 4 HOURS,  BLOOD PRESSURE: AM, etc.).  Use color marks on the bottles to assist with scheduling the time of day medications should be taken (orange- breakfast, blue- bedtime, etc.). Ask the pharmacy filling the prescription about easy open cap options.

Problem: disorganization
Common forms of disorganization:  bottles are misplaced or are in several different locations in the home,  pill boxes were not correctly filled, or maybe those pill boxes been lost or have spilled.

Traditional methods for organizing medications include plastic zipper bags, baskets, bins, and my personal favorite, pill boxes (single dose, daily or weekly options are available). Keep medications and pill boxes in a designated location.  To avoid mistakes, have one person responsible for filling the boxes each week and use the buddy system as needed. Use a rubber band to secure the lids of a pill box in the event of a spill or during travel. Create a checklist of current medications to check off when  you take each one.

Are you making any of these mistakes? Do you know anyone who is? Use these tips to quickly and easily re-work your medication management system. Careful planning and organization of your  prescriptions can prevent some of these most common errors from ever taking place. 

The aim of medicine to to prevent disease and prolong life. The ideal of medicine is to eliminate the need for a physician.
William James Mayo