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Series: Take Back Your Own Health

I am starting this series of articles about taking control of your health because of the questions and frustrations I see with my friends, family and patients. This is your body and you need to own it especially when it comes to your health. I realized it can be scary and many patients do feel out of control. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You need to find a trusted healthcare professional that you can talk to and one who will allow you to be a partner in your healthcare. Find someone who allows you to take an active role. And the number one rule is don’t be afraid to ask questions. Doctors are human and medicine is not an exact science. Remember you are the expert when it comes to you own body. This is what I tell my friends, family and patients alike.

So where do you start? Let’s start this series on taking back control of your health with medications.
Full disclosure, I am not a big prescriber or a fan of over medication. I try my hardest not to prescribe nor take medications myself, because medications are not harmless. They all have a risk benefit ratio and potential for harm. And no medication is 100% effective or 100% safe. Unfortunately, we are a medication nation; we think there is a magic pill to fix everything. But there is not and often we just have to put in the hard work.  The majority of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, which are treated today with medicines, are preventable with lifestyle changes.

Start with Medication Awareness
But if you are on medications, you need to take control and being aware of what you are taking is critical.  This may seem basic but you would be surprised how many people don’t know the names of their medication and don’t try to understand why they have been prescribed. A study done at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, found that 44% of patients believed they were receiving a medicine that they were not. About 96% were unable to recall the name of at least 1 medication they were prescribed during their hospitalization. They found patients 65 and under could not name 60% of their medications and those patients older than 65 could not name 85% of their meds.

Scary Statistics on About Medication Interactions
An Institute of Medicine (IOM) study found that at least 2 million American are harmed by medication errors every year, called adverse drug reactions (ADR.) According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) they cause about 100,000 deaths per year, which is the 4th leading cause of death in the US, ahead of lung disease and pneumonia, diabetes, AIDS, accidents, and automobile deaths.  One fifth of hospitalized patients are injured or died due to ADRs. On average a hospitalized patient will experience 1 medication error per day.  The cost of additional healthcare is about 3.5 billion to treat complications from these errors, which are completely preventable. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), every year, an estimated 700,000 persons experience adverse drug events that lead to emergency department visits.

So what can you do to keep yourself safe and in charge of your medications and health?
First keep a list of everything you’re taking, both prescriptions and over the counter medications, also include a list of any herbal dietary supplements and vitamins. About half of all drug interactions involve dietary supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as aspirin.  Question your healthcare provider about every medication they are prescribing. Ask exactly what the medication does and how does it work, especially if they tell you they want to add another one. Because often people are on so many medications they end up needing medicine to counteract side effects from their other medicines.  On average 80% of adults ages 57-85 take at least one prescription drug with almost 30% of them taking 5 or more prescriptions drugs. According to the American Medical Association (AMA) 1 in 25 people over 50 are at risk for an ADR and that increases to 1 in 10 over the age of 75. And now because care has become so fragmented and episodic with visits to the ER for emergencies or urgent care clinics, it puts people at higher risk for medication errors.

Tips to Take Control of Your Medication Health

  1. Keep a medication list and also record if you are experiencing and strange reaction or feeling since starting a new medication. Also include an allergy list and describe the type of allergic reaction (hives, breathing problems etc.)
  2. Make sure you bring this list to all your appointments and discuss it with your doctor. Give this copy to a family member who will have this in the eventuality that you become incapacitated or have to be hospitalized.
  3. Ask whether you need a blood test to monitor the your drugs effectiveness or toxicity.
  4. Remind the doctor of what you are taking when you are prescribed new medications, to make sure the no interaction.
  5. Use one pharmacy for all your prescriptions to ensure they will have a complete list of what you’re taking this will help alert them to potential drug interactions. And Let the pharmacist also know about any supplements and OTC meds you are taking too.
  6. Actually read the literature your pharmacist gives you about your meds it has list of potential drug interactions and reactions, because doctors and pharmacists can’t remember every interaction with so many new drugs coming on to the market everyday .
  7. Try to have one healthcare provider whether its your doctor or your nurse practitioner coordinate your care and review all prescriptions, even new ones given at the urgent care or emergency room.
  8. Once a year fill a bag with all you meds and take them into to the pharmacy and/or your doctor to make sure you need them all and look for potential interactions.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask the doctor about any new meds they want to start, ask why and make sure he or she knows all the meds you are on before he or she writes this new prescription.
  10. Read labels of vitamins, supplements and OTC medications and make sure you  follow directions carefully, don’t take more often or a greater amount than recommended.
  11. There are websites you can check for drug interactions (such as WebMD) as well as any interactions related to any supplements or OTC medications too.
  12. Never take someone else’s leftover prescriptions.

Remember you are in the driver seat for your body and a good healthcare provider should not only understand it but also embrace it.  I love the partnership I have with my powerful patients!

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© Dr. Leigh Vinocur, 2022.