Sunday, August 21, 2022

Do Patients Know Their Medications?

Do you know what medicines you are taking?  Do you know the doses?  Do you know the purpose of each of the medications? 

These seem like rather basic inquiries and yet you would be surprised how many patients cannot respond accurately to these 3 simple questions.  The medical profession needs to emphasize the importance of patients achieving an adequate level of medical literacy.  Knowing their medications is an important element of this mission.  It is much easier for doctors to care for informed patients.

When a patient is unsure, for example, why he is on Lipitor, we can easily explain this.  It is more challenging, however, for doctors and other medical professionals when patients do not know the specific dose of a drug or if a drug was omitted from the medication list.  This happens all the time.



Now here's a guy who knows how to make a list!


Electronic medical records (EMR) have the current medication list available for the medical staff to review. But, not surprisingly, it is not reliable 100% of the time.  Sometimes, the patient’s written medication list (assuming he has one) conflicts with the EMR’s list.  Or, the EMR may still be including medicines on the list that were stopped months or years ago.  I have also seen EMR lists that include 2 or 3 heartburn medicines and yet the patient tells me his is only taking one of them.  This makes the visit fun when we try to guess together which medicine is real and which are impostors!

I am not faulting patients here.  Many of them are on several medicines with changes in medications and dosages being made regularly.  It is hard to keep track of all this.  Imagine how challenging it is for a patient who is taking 8-10 medicines every day, with dosing ranging from once daily to four times daily, to keep it all straight.

And, if a patient is hospitalized, there’s a good chance that the medication list on discharge will be quite different from the initial one.  It’s understandable that such a patient who is still recovering from illness and may also be facing employment and familial challenges, might not prioritize studying his new drug list. But it is absolutely critical that he or a caretaker do so.

My plea?  Keep an accurate list of all medications – including over-the-counter agents and any other supplements – with the correct doses.  If your regimen is changed, then revise your list.  Bring it with you to every medical encounter.

Remember, the holiday song that contained the phrase, ‘he’s making a list and checking it twice’?  You might have been taught that this was Santa preparing for Christmas.  Actually, it was Dr Santa setting an example for his own patients.

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