House Calls runs every other Thursday. Today’s column is written by Ken Ortman, director of the Medial/Surgical Unit at Sutter Coast Hospital.
Did you ever wonder why the hospital asks you about your medications every time you go there? Or ask yourself why they don’t remember from the last visit or can’t just get the list from your old records?
Well, according to numerous studies in hospitals throughout the country, medication errors injure and sometimes kill patients in alarming numbers. Nothing is more devastating to physician or nurses than knowing they have injured a patient. The emotional scars from a single incident will last a lifetime.
We as nurses and doctors have a commitment to you, the patient, to provide the best care possible, and that includes ensuring that the medications you’re taking are the ones you need for the illnesses you have. We also have a duty to ensure you’re not taking medications that don’t work with other medications or are no longer needed. A current list of all the medications you are taking is critical to this commitment. Only you know everything you are taking and can provide that information to us.
One of the greatest tools your doctor has in treating you is an accurate and up-to-date list of medications you are taking. This includes all the over-the-counter pills and supplements suggested by friends, co-workers, and family. For example, if you are taking Coumadin (a medicine that prevents your blood from clotting), you must tell your doctor if you are taking vitamin K supplements because it will interfere with the actions of Coumadin. Brussels sprouts and broccoli also contain high levels of Vitamin K.
So what does all this mean to you? If you take medications and supplements, you need to keep an updated list of them available to provide to the hospital, ambulance crew, or your personal physician. A copy in your purse or wallet is extremely helpful to the hospital staff when you arrive. A list on the door of your refrigerator can be a life saver if you need to call an ambulance for emergency treatment.
The list of medications or supplements should contain the following information: drug name; how often you take it — daily, two times a day, etc.; how you take it — by mouth (pills), rub it on (creams), or by injections (shots of insulin); and why you take it. Sometimes your doctor will use a medication to treat a condition with a medication typically used for something else. For example Viagra, a common erectile dysfunction drug, can also be used to treat some types of high blood pressure.
When you are admitted to the hospital, your medication list is reviewed by your doctor, the nurse, and pharmacist to ensure you continue to take those medications necessary for your chronic, or long term, conditions and to ensure they won’t interfere with the drugs given to treat the problem you were admitted for.
Prevention of adverse reactions caused by drug interactions is a high priority for the entire patient care team at the hospital. In fact it is so important that a special form called a “medication reconciliation” is used for every patient who enters the hospital.
This form is also provided to your personal doctor when you are discharged from the hospital. A copy of it should also be given to you upon your discharge from the hospital. It is an excellent way for you to provide information to others involved in your health care. During discharge is the perfect time to question the nurse or doctor about any new medications you may have been prescribed. You should be completely familiar with any new drugs and ask questions on how they may require changes in your diet or activity level.
Some, like Coumadin, may require a change in your diet as well as extra precautions to prevent falls or injuries which may result in bleeding. Other medications may change your ability to drive a car or operate machinery.
So the next time you’re asked by the nurse or doctor about your medications, instead of telling them to look in your old records, give them a list of your current medications. This will speed up any treatments and ensure your health care team can provide the safest, highest quality care possible.