Health & Safety

April 27, 2012

Medication safety at home

by Mario A. Valdez
95th Medical Group, Patient Safety program manager

Whether it’s making sure we are accessing correct medical records when treating patients, or making sure clinical areas are safe and free of potential dangers, patient safety is always a priority for the Edwards Clinic staff.

However, this article focuses not on the clinic’s safety program, but safety in the home. – specifically medication safety.

Healthcare consumers trust that medications are prescribed for the sake of improving one’s health. Consequently, part of the healing process involves taking medications as prescribed. Most consumers are not aware of the dangers of failing to safely manage medications until we hear about an adverse event involving people taking medications that are not prescribed for them or children inadvertently taking medications because pills look like candy.

As a general rule, all prescribed and over-the-counter medications should be stored out of the reach of children and taken in an area not frequented by children. Inspect all medication containers for defects and ensure that locking mechanisms designed to make containers child-resistant effectively engage and are in working order. As our population gets older and patients begin taking multiple medications, many patients soon find their medication cabinet overflowing with numerous prescription and over-the-counter medications. The sheer volume of medications, if not properly stored, can potentially lead to serious and sometimes fatal medication errors in the home. The risk of overdose from ingesting prescription or over-the-counter medication increases as our vigilance decreases. Therefore, even if only taking one medication, medication safety should remain a top priority, especially in homes with small children.

Safely managing the consumption and storage of medications is of paramount importance. Always be vigilant for any potential dangers that may manifest themselves in your home; especially if you have children or pets in your household. Actively pursue opportunities to make your home safe from medication error.

Below is a list of recommendations (compiled through the help of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates/Atrius Health) designed to reduce the risk of medication errors and mishaps that may occur in your home.

 

1. Do not share your prescription medications with others.

2. Properly dispose of your expired and discontinued medications. Expired medications can lose their effectiveness and keeping discontinued medications in your home can increase the risk for medication mix-ups or improper use by others. Drug addiction often begins with the inappropriate use of medications left over from others’ prescription supplies.

3. Always follow the instructions from your health care provider regarding how much or how often you should take your medications.

4. Read each label on a medication bottle before taking out a dose to ensure that you are taking the right dose for that medication.

5. Become familiar with what your medication looks like and discuss any appearance changes with your pharmacist.

6. Don’t chew, crush, or break any capsules or tablets unless instructed. Some long-acting medications are absorbed too quickly when chewed, making them potentially unsafe. Other medications either won’t be effective or could make you sick if they are not swallowed whole.

7. For liquid medications, use only the measuring device that came with the medication or is intended to measure medications in the right dose range. Over or under dosing can occur if the correct device is not used. Note that household teaspoons and tablespoons are not very accurate. Ask your pharmacist for an appropriate measuring device (like an oral syringe) if you do not have one or one is not provided.

8. Do not stop taking any of your medications without first discussing it with your clinician. Many medications need to be slowly reduced in either the size of frequency or the dose before stopping to prevent harmful effects.

9. Never combine more than one type of medication in the same bottle. Instead, use a pill box to keep pills for the same day and time together. Consider making a printed schedule to keep track of multiple medications that need to be taken throughout the day.

10. Keep your medications in set locations so it is easier for you to remember to take them each day.

11. Don’t keep tubes of medicine ointments or creams next to your tube of toothpaste.

12. Keep a list of your current medications (including over-the-counter and herbal or nutritional supplements) in your wallet or purse and show it to every health care provider at each visit. When visiting our clinic on base, make sure that you are given an updated list of your medications by our providers before you leave the premises. If one is not provided, ask for one before you are discharged home.

13. Make sure a family member, friend, or neighbor knows what medications you take and where to find them or a list of them in your home in case of an emergency. Consider posting this list on your refrigerator or inside of your dish cabinet door.

14. Use child-proof bottles if possible when you have small children in your household and consider locking up your medications to keep them safely away from children and pets. People with pets should use the same precautions in handling and storing their medications as is recommended to people with children. Pets are finding access to their owner’s medications and mishaps (sometimes fatalities) are on the rise among household pets.

 

The recommendations above are intended to assist you in making safe and informed decisions regarding your medications. The 95th Medical Group is committed to having a patient community that is engaged in their healthcare and in making their safety a top priority. If you have any concerns related to the care you’ve received at our clinic or wish to comment on patient safety, please contact the Patient Safety Program Manager at (661)-275-2748.




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