Carry a list of medications you take, says patient-safety group
A Seattle patient-safety group is attempting to reduce drug errors by urging patients to carry a written list of all the medications they take. Washington Patient Safety Coalition's aim is to prevent deaths and injuries resulting from drug interactions, dosage errors and mixed-up prescriptions.
Seattle Times health reporter
Preventing drug errorsDOWNLOADABLE lists and information about preventing medication errors are available from the Washington Patient Safety Coalition: www.wapatientsafety.org/mymedicinelist/index.html or 206-682-2811.
TIPS ON AVOIDING drug interactions can be found at the consumer page of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm096386.htm
Pop a blue pill every day but can't remember what it's for?
Unwittingly taking hydralazine for high blood pressure instead of the allergy medicine hydroxyzine your doctor intended to prescribe?
Never mind the billions of dollars that health-care providers are investing in electronic medical records. When it comes to preventing drug errors, a Seattle nonprofit group is dispensing advice that's decidedly low tech: Jot on paper all the medications you take and carry it with you.
"It's a very basic thing that an individual can do that really affects their health," said Miriam Marcus-Smith, program director for the Washington Patient Safety Coalition. "I don't think we should wait for electronic medical records to save us."
The coalition, part of a Seattle-based nonprofit group, Foundation for Health Care Quality, recently launched a campaign to urge consumers to take responsibility for avoiding dangers involving prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicine, vitamins and supplements.
Medication errors are a pervasive problem in medicine. The landmark 2001 Institute of Medicine report, "To Err is Human," estimated that medication errors kill more than 7,000 Americans each year — more fatalities than from workplace injuries. Other medication errors, the report said, go undocumented and unreported.
The problems can occur in all kinds of ways, said John Zarek, director of clinical pharmacy for Swedish Medical Center and a member of the patient-safety coalition.
Some drugs "look alike and sound alike" yet are entirely different medications, Zarek said. Or a patient taking lisinopril for high blood pressure may also be taking a prescription for Prinivil, not realizing that it's the same drug sold under a brand name. Drugs with the same active ingredients but different formulations — immediate release, delayed release, extended release — also can lead to dosing errors.
Interactions among various drugs are yet another major concern, Zarek said. The antibiotic Bactrim, for instance, Zarek said, can heighten the potency of the blood thinner Coumadin and can cause excessive bleeding.
In an increasingly medicated society, guarding against drug errors shouldn't rest solely with doctors and pharmacists, Zarek said.
"Patients need to appreciate that they have a role in their health care," Zarek said. "It is not abrogation of responsibility by health-care providers. It is all of our responsibilities."
Eighty two percent of adults and more than half of the children in the United States take at least one medicine daily, according to a 2006 study by Boston University. Nearly 30 percent of the adults take five or more medications daily and 27 percent of children take at least two.
Marcus-Smith, of the patient-safety coalition, said the group defines medication broadly to include any substances that people take for illness or health, such as herbs or homeopathic supplements. Other organizations also count alcohol.
Even commonplace food items can cause trouble. Large amounts of chocolate, for instance, can interfere with antidepressants or Ritalin while licorice can reduce the potency of diuretics.
Marcus-Smith said keeping a complete — and updated — list of medications and their dosages is especially helpful for patients using medications that are prescribed by different doctors and filled at various pharmacies.
The Washington Patient Safety Coalition's Web site offers downloadable medication work sheets.
Marcus-Smith said that despite the national push to digitize medical records, paper and pencil can be a simple way to prevent medication errors.
"We don't care if you write it on an index card." she said.
Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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