Thursday, March 29, 2012

Managing Multiple Medications Safely

One of the most difficult things about taking care of others has been keeping track of medications they can and should not take.

Ten years ago, my husband, daughter and grandson took one medication a day but now it's closer to thirty regular prescriptions between them, and more drugs taken temporarily or for a specific problem.

Here are mistakes a caregiver might try to anticipate and avoid:

1. When a patient is hospitalized, they are often given a month's supply of medication before they leave the hospital and then a week later some prescriptions are changed again, with strength increased, decreased, medication eliminated or changed to a different generic brand. It may be hard for someone who is ill or disoriented to understand that a new medication replaces an old one. If the medication is for high blood pressure or high blood sugar, taking too much medication can be dangerous.
     Advice: Dispose of medication that is replaced or discontinued.

2. Hide pain medications or any medication for anxiety or depression, because visitors using the bathroom may look in a medicine cabinet and be tempted to partake.

3. Don't store gel capsules in a bathroom that gets steamy from the shower.

4. Patients do not usually advise a drugstore that a prescription has been discontinued even though more refills are available or the prescription has been replaced with a different strength or brand name. Someone taking more than 6 or 7 prescriptions with different expiration dates can then easily pick up one that has been replaced, and take too much. It's best to avoid "automatic refills" of prescriptions unless taking the same thing, same amount over a long period of time.

5. Keep receipts of medications taken and note if and what side effects occur, because it's often difficult to get records a few years later from the drugstore, especially if it has gone out of business.

6. An insurance provider may imply that a mail order drug company be used instead of a drugstore, and even pressure the client to use the services. Mail order prescription companies automatically fill any prescriptions sent to them by a doctor and mail the medicine to the patient, whether the patient wants it, already has a three month supply, or had a bad reaction to the drug. Refusing delivery is not an option. But maybe refusing to use a mail order service is an option even though it's not what the insurance provider "prefers."     

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