General Health

Patient Safety Awareness Week: Tools for Prescription Drug Safety

This week is National Patient Safety Awareness Week. How are you practicing safe use of prescription medications?

About 70% of Americans use some form of prescription medication. We often take these prescription drugs ourselves, without the help of a doctor, nurse, or medical professional. Because we use our medications independently, we don’t think of ourselves as “patients.” But we are. And when it comes to prescription safety, we are also our own first line of defense. In light of National Patient Safety Awareness Week, we’re sharing tips for how to be smart, healthy, and safe when it comes to prescription medications.

1. Write down your doctor’s instructions about how to safely use — and when to stop taking — your prescription drugs.

Having a written record of what your doctor tells you serves two purposes. You’ll have something to come back to if you forget or need to share your doctor’s instructions and you’ll improve your ability to remember them yourself. Studies show that the act of writing down information engages more parts of the brain and improves our recall and comprehension of important information. Just be sure to have your doctor review what you’ve written for accuracy.

2. Make a master list of all prescription drugs you’re taking. It’s also a good idea to include a quick summary of your medical history.

This can be useful to refer to at the pharmacy or doctor’s office. Consider keeping a copy in your purse or wallet so
that it is handy in the event of a health emergency. Key things to include on your list are:

  • Contact information for your doctors and specialists
  • Contact information for your pharmacy
  • At least one emergency contact
  • The names of all medications (and supplements) that you’re taking — as well as the dosage, when the medication was prescribed, and what it treats

3. Keep safe by making sure that your doctors are up-to-date on medications you have been prescribed.

The best way to keep doctors aware of your new prescription is to tell them about it! Bring a copy of your prescription drug master list to appointments. If your doctor suggests a new prescription medication, make sure to ask if it could interact with any of the drugs and supplements you are already taking. This is especially important if your medications contain the same active ingredient.

4. Learn the side effects. Know the risks.

It can be easy to dismiss the package insert that comes with your prescription and simply trust that you’ll notice if there’s a problem with your medication. But sometimes negative side effects aren’t what we expect. For example, your blood pressure medication might cause stomach pain. Knowing the side effects will help you to detect them early on and avoid mistaking them for a common illness. It can also help you and your doctor to determine whether a new medication would be a good fit with your existing medications — you may want to avoid a medication that shares side effects with a drug you already use.

5. Track your success.

It’s important to be aware of how your body is responding to a new medication, and what factors might be affecting the transition. What you eat and how often you exercise may play a role in adjusting to a new prescription. That makes it all the more important to keep a record of your mood, overall health, eating habits, and physical activity when you are starting a new prescription. This will help you and your doctor understand how your new prescription is affecting you. If keeping a journal seems overwhelming, it may be helpful to download an application to your smartphone or other electronic device to simplify the process.

6. Have a backup plan.

Keep a small supply of your prescription medications on your person when you are travelling or away from home. Life takes unexpected detours all the time, so it’s best to be prepared for a scenario that separates you from your prescriptions. In this situation, it can also be helpful to have your master list with you so that you can contact your doctor or pharmacy if needed.

7. Be cautious about taking medications for common ailments, like allergies or a cold.

Over-the-counter medications for commonplace health issues may have a negative interaction with your prescription medications. Be sure to read your package insert and check in with your doctor before taking any nonprescription medications.

8. Don’t put off contacting your doctor about negative side effects or ongoing health issues.

It’s important that your doctor knows about persistent health issues you are experiencing while you’re on a prescription drug. You may be experiencing a negative side effect (even if it seems like it might be something else) and it’s best to let your doctor know before your situation gets worse.

9. Take time to check in with yourself, even after you believe your body has adjusted to your medication.

Because serious side effects sometimes take longer to show, it’s important to have a regular “check-up” with yourself, even if you aren’t scheduled to check in with your doctor until later. Take stock of your mood and health at regular intervals and contact your doctor if you think something isn’t right.

10. If you experience unexpected side effects, take action.

Sometimes manufacturers fail to detect potential side effects of their products. Their study may not have been representative of all users who might take the prescription drug, or it may not have lasted long enough to detect a particular side effect. Be sure to discuss the issue with your doctor and make sure that what you are experiencing is a negative side effect. Afterward, there are additional steps you can take to help other patients in your position:

  • If you know other people taking your medication, share your story. Try not to raise too much alarm, as the medication may not result in the same side effect in different users, but encourage them to tell their healthcare providers if they experience something similar.
  • File a MedWatch report with the Food and Drug Administration. MedWatch reports help the FDA to understand how a prescription drug is affecting consumers.
  • Notify the manufacturer. Most drug manufacturers have a system for analyzing customer feedback and identifying trends. This information helps them to determine if it is necessary to issue a recall or label update.

We know your health is important to you, and that’s why it’s important to us. For more information about prescription medication safety, check out our blog on Understanding Prescription Drug Labels. Have a healthy Patient Safety Awareness Week!