Be Honest and Be Careful to Avoid Errors With Medications

Pharmacist Aaron Hoholik showing Care Resources participant Carol a pill organizer for her medication.

The following guest article comes from Care Resources.

Everyone makes mistakes.

But when it comes to errors regarding the medications you take, the consequences can be serious or even deadly.

The good news is this: With attention to detail and being honest about how you use meds, it’s possible to safeguard yourself against blunders that can affect your health.

“Any kind of error can result in adverse effects,” says Aaron Hoholik, a clinical pharmacist with Care Resources in Grand Rapids. “That goes not only for prescription drugs but over-the-counter products as well.

“In the pharmaceutical world, medication errors come in a wide variety – wrong medication, wrong dose, drugs with similar names, a drug not monitored correctly and even wrong patients receiving the drug.”

He points out that mistakes also occur when patients aren’t aware of the risks associated with how a drug might interact with another they’re already taking, and that includes products labeled as “natural,” “herbal” or “supplemental.”

“One of my pharmacy school professors used to say that even arsenic is a natural product,” Hoholik notes.

When someone joins Care Resources, a community-based program for people 55 years or older, it’s crucial for them to share an accurate list of meds they’re taking, how often they’re taking them and where they’re getting them from.

“That’s a great way to start,” says Hoholik, emphasizing that such information can help medical providers like himself best serve patients going forward.

But it’s also vital that patients be honest in reporting how often they’re actually taking a medicine, since some people will intentionally or accidentally not take them as prescribed – anything from pain meds to insulin to what’s in their inhaler.

Taking a dose more or less often than a person is supposed to can result in adverse effects like low or high blood pressure, dangerous blood-sugar levels and more.

“We need to know exactly what they’re taking and how they’re taking it,” says Hoholik, “so they don’t experience any problems that are going to have them end up in emergency health care.”

Of equal importance is organizing your meds, and there are a variety of ways to do so. While some people dispense meds from individual containers, many are resorting to “adherence packaging,” which relies on accurately marked pouches or blister packs to bundle meds so that patients get the right dose at the right time, every time.

“It’s becoming a common way to package meds for our patients,” he says of participants he’s been serving on behalf of Care Resources since 2009.

Additional tips on how to avoid errors include:

  • Never dump your old pill bottles into your new ones, even if the medication name and dose are the same.
  • Set alarms on your phone, an alarm clock or a smart device to help you remember to take your medications.
  • Call for a refill when you have about one week of medications left to avoid gaps in taking your medications.
  • Ask your pharmacist about getting all your medications lined up to fill on the same day each month.
  • Ask your pharmacist and primary care provider if there are ways to take your same medications, but with fewer daily doses (by combining medications, changing to extended-release formulas or other adjustments).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you notice you’re missing doses.

“Organizing your meds and taking them as directed is always a process,” says Hoholik. “Being honest and accurate is key. And it can make all the difference when it comes to being and staying healthy.”

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