Monday, October 11, 2010

Your Best Health Care Advocate: YOU

Did you know that most pharmacy mix-ups occur around the first of the month? When it comes to prescription drugs, who’s really looking out for you?

Some examples of mix-ups: Getting the wrong dose, getting the wrong pill size, the pill count is off, the pill type is wrong, confusing one prescription name for another, and others.

When you go to the doctor, pay attention and ask questions about any drug or procedure—just to make sure you fully understand everything. Don’t let the miracle of technology take control of the health care situation—doctors entering prescription requests into a computer, a pharmacist using another computer with robotic arm to select your particular drug from a literal warehouse of drugs, then still another computerized device counting pills out for dispensing—you see the host of places where errors can occur…and that’s just the TECHNOLOGICAL end of things!

Next, we have the human end of things—tired and overworked doctors, harried pharmacists working both front counter and drive-through lanes, hand-carried written prescriptions in undecipherable gibberish, and too many drugs with similar-sounding names. All these add up to a witch’s brew of potential pharmacological hazards.

Then we further complicate things with mergers between two (or more) large drug store chains forming one large drug store conglomerate. Information's bound to get lost in the takeover shuffle.

It’s a wonder more of us don’t die because of prescription errors.

Doctors and pharmacists are not computer experts, nor can they do one another’s job. A computer software or hardware problem can easily be overlooked, because they aren’t in the business of technology. They aren’t trained to spot these kinds of problems.

What can we do about this? Ask questions. Check and re-check. Write things down if you have to. Look things up on the web, putting technology to work FOR YOU instead of the other way around. And most of all, don’t be afraid to point out errors—any errors—in prescription medication. Wrong dose? Different pill strength? Wrong pill count? Wrong pill altogether? Similar-looking or similar-sounding drug, but not what you need? Ask questions. Check and re-check, especially around the first of the month, when seniors are likely to besiege pharmacies on Social Security payday. Large crowds, long waits, a double-duty pharmacist, and malfunctioning software spell trouble even at the best of times!

Make sure you get the prescription information from your doctor before leaving the office. Make sure everything’s correct on your prescription label before you leave the pharmacy. Make sure you have a point of contact in case you missed something at the pharmacy, but discovered it at home. Make sure you have a 24-hour source of information in case of drug reactions, interactions, and counteractions.

You are your own best health care advocate. The doctor and pharmacist work for you. Make sure they’re doing their best to serve you in the prescription drug arena.


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