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.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at

Sutter Coast Hospital,