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Medication safety

Minimize risks for drug errors

Drugs are generally safe when used as directed. But there are risks with any drug – whether prescribed or purchased over the counter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700,000 emergency room visits are due to adverse drug events every year.

You can help prevent this from happening to you by understanding the drugs you take and asking your doctors and pharmacist questions about them. If you take multiple drugs, you’re especially vulnerable. Log in to your account to get information about your personal risk, including:

  • Drug interactions
  • Drug side effects
  • Pharmacy claim history

Take a moment to review our tips to safely take drugs, find out how to recognize when you’re at risk, and learn about a program that may help you and your health care team better manage your medication plan.

  • Tips for safe medication use

    If a doctor writes a prescription, make sure you understand what it is for and how to take it. Your pharmacist is also an excellent source of information. If you don’t understand something, ask questions.

    These tips can help you stay safe while taking drugs:

    • Review all of your drugs with your doctor at least once a year. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal supplements.
    • Fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy if possible. This makes it easier to check for drug interactions. Transferring prescriptions frequently between pharmacies can be dangerous.
    • Keep an up-to-date list of all drugs you are taking (prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, herbal) in your purse or wallet. Make sure the list matches what your doctor and pharmacist have on file. Use our medication safety checklist (PDF).
    • Make sure your pharmacy and all of your doctors, including your dentist, have your drug allergies on file.
    • Understand your conditions and how they are treated with medication and lifestyle changes.
  • What should I ask my pharmacist?

    Ask the pharmacist these questions each time you get a prescription filled for a new drug:

    • What is this drug used for?
    • How does it work?
    • How am I supposed to take the drug?
    • Should I take it with or without food?
    • What are the side effects?
    • Can I drink alcohol while taking this drug?
    • How long before I see the effects?
    • How long do I need to take this drug?
    • What do I do if I miss a dose?
    • How should this drug be stored?

    Asking these and other questions that may arise will help you avoid drug interactions and ensure that you are using the drug properly.

  • Am I at risk when I take multiple drugs?

    Taking multiple drugs at the same time is called polypharmacy. Polypharmacy means “many drugs.” This doesn’t just refer to prescription drugs. Over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements, including herbs and vitamins, can also contribute to polypharmacy.

    Polypharmacy can put you at risk for:

    • Adverse side effects.
    • Dangerous drug interactions.
    • Unwanted duplication. For example, if you take two medications that contain acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, you may be getting too much of the drug, which can be harmful to the liver.

    These problems often result when patients have multiple conditions that require different doctors or when they go to multiple pharmacies. It’s important to know if you are at risk for polypharmacy and how to prevent it.

    Am I at risk for polypharmacy?

    Take this quick test to find out. Do you:

    • Take one or more prescription drugs?
    • Take dietary supplements, vitamins or over-the-counter drugs?
    • Take homeopathic remedies or herbal medicines?
    • Use different pharmacies to fill your prescriptions?
    • Have more than one doctor giving you prescriptions?
    • Take medicine more than once a day?
    • Have trouble opening medicine bottles?
    • Have poor eyesight or hearing?
    • Live alone?
    • Sometimes forget to take your drugs?

    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be at risk for polypharmacy. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a complete medication review.

    10 tips to prevent polypharmacy

    You can prevent dangerous drug interactions with a little education and preparation:

    1. Always read drug labels. They may tip you off to possible drug interactions.
    2. Use only one pharmacy to fill prescriptions.
    3. Learn your drugs by name, and know what each is for.
    4. Make a list of all your drugs, including pill strength and dose, as well as herbal products, vitamins, homeopathic remedies, supplements and over-the-counter drugs. Update it after every doctor visit.
    5. Carry your drug list everywhere. Bring it to every doctor visit.
    6. If you have more than one doctor, make sure each one knows what the other is prescribing.
    7. Ask your primary caregiver or pharmacist to run your medication list through a drug interactions database to identify possible problems, especially if you’re on five or more drugs.
    8. Avoid combination products such as cold formulas. Ask your pharmacist to help you find a product just for the symptoms you're experiencing – not for every possible symptom.
    9. Never take a drug without asking your pharmacist about its side effects and interactions with other drugs.
    10. Get familiar with your drugs. Learn about them from your doctor or pharmacist, or learn to use a Physician’s Desk Reference, available in your local library. Books about prescription drugs also are available at your local bookstore. Beware of information you read online; much of it comes from questionable sources.
  • Reduce drug errors with HAP’s Medication Therapy Management Program

    A drug error is any preventable event that involves prescribing or taking a prescription medication. These errors can include:

    • Taking a drug that interacts harmfully with another drug
    • Taking the wrong dose of a drug
    • Taking the wrong drug

    Individuals with chronic diseases are at particular risk for drug errors. These errors can result in serious complications such as heart attacks, falls, blood clots and kidney failure. Our Medication Therapy Management Program, or MTMP, aims to prevent drug errors.

    MTMP is a collaboration between you and your pharmacist and doctors to ensure that you take the correct medications while achieving the best possible outcome.

    Our clinical pharmacists work to understand your health care goals, needs and barriers to receiving care. Your doctor then uses this information to develop a drug plan that may include drug or dosing changes, generic drug alternatives, ordering lab tests and recommending tools to make the plan easier to follow.

    Benefits of our Medication Therapy Management Program include:

    • Improved adherence: Safely taking drugs as prescribed.
    • Lower out-of-pocket costs: The program has reduced members’ direct pharmacy costs by 16 percent and indirect medical costs by 21 percent.
    • Improved safety: MTMP can help you avoid dangerous side effects, such as stomach bleeds -- the No. 1 drug-related error leading to hospitalization.
    • Better engagement with your health care team: When everyone is on the same page with your drugs, you receive better care.

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