Understanding Your Prescribed Medication

As a past pharmacy technician, experience has shown that many medical mistakes occur because of the failure to ask questions on the part of the patient or the pharmacist’s failure to offer further insight / instruction. Because the responsibility falls on pharmacy professionals to ensure that the patient understands his/her prescription, it is of extreme importance that they offer answers to any questions the patient might have. On the other hand, many pharmacists offer their assistance only to be told by the patient that they are sure about their medication and are fully aware of how it should be taken and/or administered. Because pharmacists in hospital and health systems are responsible for the lives of their patients, they are expected to work closely with those to which prescriptions are given. In addition, patients should be aware of their role in ensuring their own safety.

What steps need to be taken to ensure medication safety?

1. Patients should keep a detailed list of all medications they are currently taking. The list should include all prescription/non-prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications including but not limited to herbal supplements, home remedies and medical foods. The patient should also inform their doctor / pharmacist of any allergies they might have or any medications that may cause an allergic reaction. Making your doctor / pharmacist aware of your medical history can eliminate the possibility of the doctor prescribing medications that will do more harm than good. In addition, sometimes patients have so many prescriptions that it becomes hard to keep a detailed account. In such cases, it is helpful to purchase a pill box from a local drug store such as Walgreen’s, Osco Drug or CVS Pharmacy for storing your medications. The pill box should be labeled by day so that the patient knows when to take each medication. In addition to drug stores, there are also on-line resources for ordering medication dispensers and organizers.

2. Inform your doctor / pharmacist how you actually take your medication. Even though your prescribing doctor / pharmacist may give you in-depth directions for taking your medication, there are patients who take their med’s differently. For example, instead of taking one tablet twice daily (tt po, bid), patient’s might decide to take two tablets twice daily (Take 2 tabs, po, bid). This may or may not be cause for alarm. However, your doctor / pharmacist should always be made aware of the way you are ingesting your medication.

3. Learn the names of the drugs that are prescribed to you, as well as their dosage strength and schedules. By researching your medication and finding out the strengths appropriate by case and how they should be taken, you will more fully have a grasp of when you may be getting too much or not enough. You will also have a better idea of when you may be walking the thin line between safe allowances and overdosing.

4. Ask if there are any applicable restrictions, while you are on your medication(s). There are instances when certain foods, beverages, other medicines or certain activities should be limited or discontinued; while you are on specific medications. Your pharmacist/doctor should be made aware of items that may interact with or counteract your prescribed medication(s). For example, many antibiotics decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. It is usually recommended that a back-up form of birth control be used; until you have completed your cycle of antibiotics.

5. Question anything that causes concern.Be aware of the color, form (liquid or tablet) and strength of your medication. There are times when you may notice that the strength of your prescription has been changed, the color may differ from what you are used to or you have received a different prescription altogether. Make your doctor / pharmacist aware of any changes that are of concern to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There may be a reasonable explanation for this change but you will never know, unless you ask. For example: Perhaps, your local pharmacy/doctor’s office is out of Zestril 10mg. As opposed to having you wait for the McKesson drug order to come in, your pharmacist gives you the Zestril 5mg and, instead of taking 1 tablet by mouth daily; you are told to take 2 tablets by mouth every day. Your quantity changes from 30 to 60 so that you will still have a 30 day supply.

6. Illustrate your understanding of your prescribed medication by repeating the directions back to your doctor / pharmacist. Be sure that you are on the right track, when it comes to proper usage of your medication. By repeating the directions back to your pharmacist/doctor, they are able to recognize your understanding or lack thereof concerning the prescribed medication. SAFETY FIRST.

7. If you are too ill to properly adhere to the above guidelines, it is important to have a relative or close friend assist you. Some patients are debilitated to the point of not being able to properly take their medications. If this is the case, it is essential to find someone capable of assisting with proper dosage administration.

8. It is always a good idea to ask questions, if you are uncertain about anything. When it comes to your health, no question is invalid. It is better to be safe than sorry. One should never feel as if they are inquiring too much. If you are ever made to feel as if your questions can’t be answered, seek a second opinion from another reputable and qualified source.

Following the above guidelines helps ensure medication safety on the part of the doctor / pharmacist and patient. By taking the necessary precautions, we can all help cut down on medical mistakes.

Handy Chart for Deciphering your Written Prescription
aa – of each
a.c – before meals
A.D. – right ear
A.S. – left ear
A.M. – morning
app – applicator
A.U. – both ears
B.I.D. – two times a day
BP – blood pressure
cap – capsule
cc – cubic centimeter
crm – cream
d/c – discontinue
gm – gram
gr – grain
gtt – drop
hr – hour
h.s. – at bedtime
INJ – inject
I.M. – intramuscular
I.V. – intravenous
L – liter
lb – pound
mcg – microgram
mEq – milliequivalent
mg – milligram
ml – milliliter
mm – millimeter
O..D. – right eye
O.S. – left eye
O.U. – both eyes
oz – ounce
p.c – after meals (food)
P.O. – orally (by mouth)
p.r.n – as needed
P.R – rectally
pulv – powder
P.V. – vaginally
qam – every morning
Q.D. – once a day
Q.H. – every hour
Q.I.D. – four times a day
Q.O.D. – every other day
qpm – every evening
qam – every morning
Q 4Ã?°-6Ã?°– every 4 to 6 hours
qs – “up to”
sig – directions
S.L. – sublingually
ss – one half
stat – now / immediately
supp – suppository
tab – tablet
tbs – tablespoon
T.I.D. – three times a day
tsp – teaspoon
ud – as directed
ung – ointment

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