Our medical director for quality and patient safety, Mary Gregg, MD, MHA, blogged for the Washington State Medical Association about medication safety - what we as patients can do to help keep us safe:
Medications fight illnesses, prevent disease and help improve quality of life. But it’s important to take them safely and as directed.
As a cardiac surgeon, I’ve seen the consequences of not taking medications properly. I once had a heart attack patient come to the hospital. After a successful surgery inserting a stent to prevent blockage in his artery, he was discharged with a prescription for a medication to prevent clots. For one reason or another, the patient didn’t fill his prescription as instructed for several days and he ended up in the ER for emergency heart surgery.
Some easy simple steps to prevent medication errors:
- Give your medications a check-up. Taken as directed, medications are safe, helpful tools to ensure good health. However, because medications can be so powerful, taking incorrect dosages, mixing different products or using out-dated medications can be dangerous.
- Make a Medication List. Make a list of all medications you take—this includes all prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, herbals, supplements, minerals, ointments, and vitamins. The Washington Patient Safety Coalition has some helpful tips for making your list (mymedicinelist.org).
- Share the list with your doctor. Along with your list, put all medications you take regularly in a bag—including all prescriptions and non-prescriptions. Bring the bag to your next doctor visit and review your medications with your physician to check for outdated items, dangerous combinations, and improper dosages.
Ask questions! As you review the items with your doctor, make sure you ask questions and really understand the answers. Nodding your head when you do not fully understand doesn’t benefit you or your doctor. Questions to ask:
- What is the medication’s name and what is it supposed to do?
- How often and how long should I take the medication?
- Are there potential side effects? Which side effects should I report?
- Should the medication be taken until it’s finished or just until I feel better?
- Should I avoid particular foods, beverages, medicines or activities while taking this medication?
- Is a generic equivalent available and appropriate?
- Don’t take any one else’s medication and don’t share yours with anyone else. Your friend’s medication may interact with your current medications or an underlying medical condition. In addition, the dose may be wrong for your body size and you may develop an allergic reaction or serious side effect. Sharing medications is never safe.
- Don’t take medication after it has expired. Over time medications lose their potency and may be harmful to your health. Always check the expiration dates before taking medication.
Be an active partner in your health care. Make the right choices about your medications. And take them only as directed by your physician. These simple steps can make health care safer, more effective, and can even save a life.
(Editor's note: this blog post originally appeared here.)