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Prescription Medication Safety: Know Your Medication List

By: Jadwiga Merkel, Julfred Marcellana, Leann Murray - BU Nursing Students

Whether you’re a patient or a healthcare provider, one conversation is all it takes to reduce the risk of harmful drug interactions. Keep a list of your medications because ‘not all meds get along’.

The use of prescription medications has become a norm within our society, as many individuals take a daily dose of a prescription. However, it raises an important question: Why is it important to know what medications you are currently taking?

According to the Canadian Health Measures Survey, 41% of individuals (between the ages of 6 to 79 years old) had taken at least one prescription medication in the previous 2 days.

Think about this scenario:

You are getting ready to head home, after an evening meal out with your family. Suddenly you feel lightheaded, have blurred vision, and you just cannot catch your breath. Your family ask you if you are okay and quickly they become concerned with your condition. An ambulance is called and on arrival, the emergency team assesses you, asking several questions related to your current symptoms, health history, medication, and herbal supplement use.

Ask yourself:

  • Can you list the names of the medications or herbal supplements you currently take and the dose of each one?
  • If you were unable to speak for yourself, could your spouse or child tell a healthcare provider what medications or herbal supplements you take?

Let us continue the scenario:

You and your family are unable to provide any information regarding the medications/herbal supplements you take. Your partner offers to drive home to gather your medications, and meet you at the hospital, but the trip will take your partner at least one hour. You are loaded into the ambulance, and taken to the emergency room. Your condition does not improve during the ambulance ride and you are whisked away by a flurry of healthcare workers on arrival at the hospital. Once again, a nurse asks you about your symptoms, health history, medication, and herbal supplement use.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do you think it is important for healthcare providers to know what medication or herbal supplements you are taking?

Let us continue the scenario again:

After trying to remember what medications you are taking, you finally ask the nurse "Why do you want to know what medications I’m on? What difference does it make? I just want to feel better."

The nurse explains it is necessary to know of any medications you are taking, so that any medications given to you do not interact or cause serious side effects. The nurse further explains that when medications and herbal supplements interact, the overall effect of the medication given may be greater than desired or lower than desired. The doctor arrives to your bedside and is hesitant to start treatment until your medications have been identified. Your partner finally arrives with your regular medications and herbal supplements. The healthcare team initiates a treatment plan. The doctor informs you of the importance of knowing what medications you are taking and that in your case, no serious consequences came with having to wait for your medications. Fortunately, your hospital stay is short and you are discharged.

Ask yourself:

  • What complications could have occurred? How can you keep your medication/herbal supplement information on yourself so that this scenario will not happen to you?

Knowing your prescription medications may help with immediate treatment during emergency care. Knowing what medications to avoid during treatment decreases the chance of harmful side effects from drug interactions.

So, the question is: How can you keep track of your prescription medications?

Here are a few ways:

    1. Your local pharmacy can print out a list of your prescription medications. Keep the list in your wallet or somewhere easily accessible during an emergency.
    2. Click here to Download, print, and fill out a Medication Notepad
    3. Click here to Download, print, and fill out a Medication Card
    4. Set up Medical ID on your iPhone. Built into the iPhone lock screen is a medical ID. The medical ID allows healthcare providers access to your health information via the phone’s lock screen, without needing a passcode. Visit the Apple website for directions to set up your Medical ID.
    5. Download a medical ID app for your Android phone. Android and other smartphones do not have Medical ID automatically built into the phone. Download a free app that provides all the same features as the iPhone medical ID. For more information on how to set up your medical ID on your Android phone and other smartphones, click here.

It is important to know the medications you take!  For more information on medication safety click on the underlined words to visit:

Canadian Patient Safety Institute

Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety

It’s Safe to Ask

My Patient Passport