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Use medications safely by being “MedWise”

October 08, 2010

There are more than 100,000 over-the-counter and numerous other prescription drugs available. When taken correctly, these medicines can help relieve symptoms such as pain or an upset stomach, fight certain infections, and even improve the quality of life for those with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer and more.

“These are serious medicines that need to be taken with care,” said Dr. Randolph Peto, medical director, Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety at Baystate Medical Center.

And that’s why it’s important to “Be MedWise” as the campaign slogan states every time your purchase and use both over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

“Being medicine smart means becoming a more informed consumer about your prescription medications, which will allow you to derive the most benefit from them and to help avoid medication errors,” said Dr. Peto.

October is Talk About Prescriptions Month, sponsored by the National Council on Patient Information and Education, with the goal of encouraging patients and their caregivers to take a more active role in preventing medication errors and keeping careful records of all their medications and taking greater responsibility for monitoring those medications.

Problems associated with medications are among the most common safety risks for patients, and as a national leader in patient safety, Baystate Medical Center is dedicated to increasing medication safety among patients and the public.+

“Being MedWise” means getting all the information necessary to use your medicine correctly, noted Dr. Peto.

“That means asking questions and sharing important information about past medicine use to better ensure that you get the most benefit from your treatment,” he said.

And, it also means knowing several key facts about the medicines  you are currently taking and being able to share that information with members of your healthcare team with each visit.

“It’s important to keep track of the names of the medicines you are taking, how much you take, when and how you take it, why you take it, and when you started it,” said Dr. Peto.

Dr. Peto, along with his colleagues, including the entire Pharmacy staff at Baystate, is encouraging all patients and the general public during Talk About Prescriptions Month to take a more active role in improving medication safety for themselves and loved ones.

“Medication errors can occur in various settings including at the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy, in the hospital, and at home,” Dr. Peto said.

Aside from checking that your prescription has been filled correctly by the pharmacist, there are several ways consumers can protect themselves related to medications, he added.

Among the “Top Five” safety tips offered by Dr. Peto when it comes to prescription medications are:

1.      Use one pharmacy for all your medications. This will allow your pharmacist to check for drug interactions.

2.      Always carry a list of your current medications, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter drugs. Be sure your doctor knows about all of these medications when prescribing new ones. The list is also helpful in emergency situations.

3.      Consult with your doctor before stopping any medications, changing the amount you take, missing a dose, or adding herbal supplements.

4.      When you are prescribed a new drug, know when and how to take it and what the purpose of the medication is. Repeat the instructions you have been given back to the nurse, physician or pharmacist who is helping you.

5.      Monitor any possible side effects and contact your doctor or healthcare provider if you experience any unusual symptoms that begin after taking your new medication.

“A significant problem today is the issue of financially challenged seniors skipping or halving doses. We must get the message out that not following instructions when taking medications can pose a grave danger to patients,” said Dr. Peto.

“And in today’s economy, it’s not just seniors trying to economize. Others, as well, are choosing to not follow the full prescription directions. Remember, for your health, you should talk to your health care provider if you’re contemplating cutting back on medications because of the cost,” he added.

Dr. Peto also recommends for those who cannot afford a prescription to ask their doctor if there are any programs or alternatives to reduce their cost.