Geriatrics Program

Do You Understand Your Prescriptions?

Virginia Cummings, MD, Geriatrics Program Director, Milton Hospital

Every day, patients trust their caregivers to make them well, and rightly so.  Doctors and nurses are trained to address complex illnesses with equally complex treatments.  But what happens after patients are discharged, when “following doctors orders” is far more complicated than “take two aspirin and call me in the morning”?

Failing to correctly follow a prescription results in countless emergency room visits and thousands of deaths each year.  Many factors can lead to mismanaged use of medications.  Be careful to steer clear of these common traps:

Too many meds – Some of us are on so many prescriptions, we can’t remember them all!  Many patients have difficulty managing multiple medications at once.  If this proves to be a problem for you, consider medication organizers like pillboxes.  Your doctor may also be able to steer you toward an electronic notification systems, which helps remind patients at the appropriate time to take certain medications.

Cutting Costs – It’s not just that times are tough.  It’s also that many insurances don’t cover as much as cost as they used to.  The cost of medications certainly adds up!  People are often ashamed to confess to their doctor that they can't afford certain medications.  But there may be ways your doctor can help by prescribing more affordable generic medications, providing samples, or referring you to a social worker to find low-cost plans.

Fear of side effects - It is no secret that some medications bring along side effects like nausea or dizziness.  These are particularly frightening when they are unexpected.  A patient may be much less likely to take his or her medication if these side effects are involved, but a full understanding of the effects of medication, how long side effects last, and what can be done to minimize them may help you to overcome your reluctance.

Counteracting drugs – Especially when your physician is unaware of all the medications you are taking, it's possible for a patient to be taking two prescriptions  that affect each other, which have opposite effects.  Some prescriptions might have dangerous affects when taken in combination.  It is imperative that you keep track of all your medications, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and share that list with your doctor.  Complete a medication record, and keep it in your wallet or purse.  Keep another on your refrigerator, in case of emergency.  Many EMTs are trained to look for this list on your fridge.

You may download and print a medication record sheet by clicking here.  In addition, the Norfolk County Sherriff’s Office provides free “File of Life” cards, which can be completed and attached by magnet to your refrigerator.

Taking meds inconsistently – Establishing a routine is an important part of remaining compliant with your medication.  Plan to take your medication at the same time every day.  It will help you to remember what you took, and when.

If you ever become overwhelmed with keeping up with your medication, consult your doctor.  He or she will be able to help you organize everything and keep you on track.  Only then will you be able to benefit from any treatment plan.