What’s one thing you can do to restrain your health care costs, decrease your chances of experiencing a medical injury and put yourself in control of your medical care? The correct answer is close to home: review and confirm your prescription medications.
Much of the modern practice of medicine comes down to you and your doctor choosing the right prescription drug. Because it’s so important to your health, you must understand the medicines your doctor prescribes. Taking the wrong drug risks adverse reactions, so you should make sure you receive the right prescription.
Even though your health care team works diligently on your behalf, there are several ways you can receive the wrong medicine. A doctor might accidently prescribe a medication that is not correct for you or your medical condition. A doctor might prescribe the right medication, but you receive a different medicine by mistake. A third way that medication injuries can happen is when the drug that the doctor prescribed is replaced, or switched by the pharmacist.
Taking the wrong medicine, whatever the cause, can have serious consequences. According to a Lancet Medical Journal report, medication errors may account for 7,000 deaths per year. Preventable drug errors are expensive, too, adding $2 billion to the U.S. health care system annually.
Since no one in the health care system has more at stake with respect to your medicines than you, take control of the process and make sure you are prescribed the right medication, and understand what medication you’re supposed to get and confirm that you get it.
Take a few moments to discuss the medications with your doctor. Ultimately you, not your doctor, are responsible for the final decision about your medications, so take the time to understand what the doctor thinks you should take and why. There are other important steps to help you get the right medicine:
• Ask the doctor to spell and pronounce each medicine. Write it down and read it back to the doctor so you avoid the common mistake of receiving a similar sounding drug at the pharmacy.
• Ask your doctor what is important about the particular medicine (brand, amount, etc.) that was important in his or her prescribing decision. Why is it better than other options?
• Be sure to understand when and how often you should take the medication. Should you get a refill? Are there any special rules about foods, drinks, or activities when taking the drug?
• Make sure you understand common side effects and be able to recognize any that would cause the doctor concern.
At the pharmacy, compare the information your doctor gave you with the medication you’re given. If there are any differences, speak up and let the pharmacist know. There is an Rx Check Worksheet available at the Washington Health Foundation web page (www.whf.org) under “My Health.” You can take the form with you to the doctor’s office and pharmacy to be sure you’re getting the medication that’s right for you.
If the pharmacist provides you a medication different from the one you and your doctor discussed, it is OK to ask them to call your doctor, even while you’re still in the pharmacy, to make sure it’s right.
• If the pharmacist suggests a different medication for medical reasons, ask them to call your doctor to make sure it fits your treatment plan.
• If the pharmacist suggests a different medication for insurance reasons, ask them to call your insurance company (the pharmacist often has the number) and ask for approval to continue with the medication “as written” by your doctor before making the switch.
You have the right to talk to the State Insurance Regulation office if you are not getting the help you need. The number is 800-562-6900 in the state of Washington.
Your doctor and pharmacist work hard to provide you with the highest quality care. You can help by being a full partner in the prescription drug process. Simple, practical, potentially life-saving steps like these can make a real difference.