“I think one of the primary reasons it’s important for people to understand the medications they’re on is to be able to communicate that with whoever is taking care of them, whether it’s at the doctor’s office or in the hospital,” says David Copelan, Pharm.D., pharmacy director at Piedmont Newnan Hospital. “You have to know not only the names of the drugs and the dosage, but also how you’re instructed to take them.”
While taking the incorrect drug can be harmful, missing a dose of your prescribed medication can be just as detrimental to your health.
“There are a couple of things that can happen that can cause harm to a patient purely by mistake,” he says. “For example, one instance might be that a patient reports that they’re on a drug called sertraline, which is an antidepressant, but they’re actually on a drug called stelazine. Those two drugs sound very similar and the person who’s interviewing them may mishear or misunderstand.”
Copelan encourages patients to take ownership of their healthcare and take the time to understand which medications they are taking and why.
“When you’re getting a prescription filled at the pharmacy, it’s very important that you understand your prescription as well as the pharmacist understand your prescription, so you can be sure that they’re filling the right medication in the right dose,” he says. “You know more about what you’ve just seen the doctor about than the pharmacist does, so being able to communicate that with the pharmacist is very important so they get your prescription right.”
When you get home, it is crucial that you follow the instructions that come with your medication, such as dosage information and if you should take it with or without food.
“Those types of things can make a huge difference in how you respond to that medication,” says Copelan.
What to bring to the hospital
“One of the best ways that patients can help us manage their disease and maintain their medications when they’re brought here to the hospital is to keep a list of all your medications with you,” he says.
Write down the names and correct spelling of your medication, the dosage, how frequently you take it and why.
“That way we can be sure we’re continuing the right medication for you here,” he says.
“Another important thing to remember when you’re making a drug list is to list any drug allergies that you might have so that anything new that’s prescribed for you won’t cause you to have a problem with a drug allergy or adverse reaction,” says Copelan.
“I think the bottom line message is that everyone needs to know what medications they’re on, what doses they’re on and why they’re on the medication, and be sure they communicate that with everybody who’s involved in their care.”
Piedmont pharmacies have recently rolled out an initiative called medication reconciliation to ensure safer patient care. The initiative helps patients and their care teams communicate about the patient’s prescription medications to ensure the safest care possible during and after their hospital stay.