Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Your Medications: Keeping Yourself Safe - A Blogathon 2013 Guest Post

A guest post by Jane Neff Rollins, MSPH

As I head off to my college reunion tomorrow, I am packing what I need for a five-day trip, including my medications. I take only one prescription drug, for an underactive thyroid gland. But I also take two nutritional supplements – Vitamin D (because my last blood test showed that my level was too low) and Calcium (which is recommended for all women my age – 61). Because I sometimes have trouble remembering whether I’ve taken a given pill by the time mid-afternoon rolls around, I transfer my gel caps and tablets to a calendar box, a plastic box that has smaller boxes with hinged lids labeled M, T, W, Th, F, Sa, and Su for the days of the week. If the Tuesday box is empty, and it’s Tuesday, I know I’ve taken my allotment for the day.

According to the Partnership for Health Care Excellence, a Massachusetts not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping patients be more actively engaged with the health care system, we should all keep our tablets and capsules in the original pill bottle or package.

So I’m a bit of a scofflaw when it comes to that bullet point, but I do follow all their other recommendations for medication safety. To learn what they are, download the PHE fact sheet: "What you can do to take your medications safely."

If you take lots of meds, it’s a good idea to schedule a “brown-bag checkup,” either from your primary care doc or your local pharmacist. You put all of your prescription and over-the-counter meds, and any nutritional supplements or herbs you may take, into a brown paper bag and bring it with you.

Your doctor or pharmacist will double check to see:

  • If you are taking the correct dosage at the right intervals
  • If you are using pills that are expired, or have been discontinued or recalled
  • If you are taking pills prescribed by two different doctors that do the same thing
  • If anything you take (Rx, OTC or “natural”) might interact poorly and cause side effects

Taking charge of your health care by knowing what medications you take, and working with your doctor or pharmacist, will help ensure that you are taking medications safely.

Jane Neff Rollins, MSPH, is the author of the upcoming book “Health Care Navigation 101: Get the Health Care You Deserve.” She also trains working adults to navigate the health care system effectively and blogs at Jane takes complex ideas and makes them easy to understand for consumers and health professionals. Her medical writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Reed magazine,, medical journals, and trade magazines.

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