5 Top Tips for Safe Medication Management

The number of prescriptions filled in the U.S. has risen from 2.4 billion 1997 to 4.4 billion in 2016, according to figures from Quintiles IMS. With a recent Consumer Reports survey showing more than half of Americans regularly take prescription medication, the need for organized and safe medication management is higher than ever. To help patients who need to regularly take prescription and over-the-counter medication, we have put together our top five tips for safely managing medicine and minimizing the chance of medication errors, adverse reactions, and side effects. 

1. Take medication as prescribed and follow health provider instructions

Always follow instructions when taking any medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter. Only take prescription drugs that have been prescribed to you and ensure you do not miss doses or stop taking medication without a consultation with your healthcare provider. 

In a recent set of guidelines issued to older patients by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Sandra L. Kweder MD, medical officer at the FDA, said: "Every medicine is really different and is dosed according to what’s been tested." She added that medication cannot be effective unless you take it, warning that some drugs only work when they are taken regularly and as directed. 

2. Have regular medication reviews with your healthcare provider

Consumer Reports recently found more than one-third of Americans regularly taking prescription medicine had never had their medication reviewed by a healthcare provider. It also revealed the average person on medication takes four different drugs. Following a medication review with a pharmacist or physician, you may discover a different drug would be more appropriate, or that at least one medication could be cut out entirely. Indeed, the Consumer Reports survey found that half of the respondents had spoken to their providers about stopping a drug and that seven out of ten of these had successfully eliminated a drug from their lives. 

3. Try to minimize the number of healthcare providers who prescribe your medication

In the current U.S. healthcare system, it is not uncommon for patients to have more than one healthcare provider. Many will see a specialist to treat a condition or see different physicians in an effort to keep costs low. A danger of this is the possibility that each will prescribe medication without being aware of existing prescriptions, which can lead to unexpected side effects, adverse drug interactions, and medication errors. If you do have a number of different providers, make sure you have a full record of all drugs you are taking to minimize the chance that medication problems will develop. 

4. Keep track of any medication you are taking

Keeping track of medication is vital for any patient, but it is particularly important if you are taking a number of different drugs. The FDA and many other organizations offer printable templates to help patients keep track of their doses, what the drugs look like, emergency contacts, expiration dates and which doctor prescribed them. There are also a number of mobile apps and other electronic solutions for tracking and logging medication. Tools such as these can help you keep up to date with what you are taking and can be a useful resource when speaking to your healthcare providers.   

5. Educate yourself about potential drug interactions and side effects

Whenever you take any medication, it is always worth reading up and educating yourself about the drug in question, from side effects to interactions with other medication. Even over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements can interact with prescription drugs, so it is important to understand the risks of each medicine and how to take it safely and appropriately. While a healthcare provider will provide information on any drug they prescribe, patients should have an understanding of their prescriptions rather than simply relying on physicians and pharmacists. 

The FDA guidelines note that interactions occur when: 

  • One drug affects how another drug works;
  • A medical condition you have makes a certain drug potentially harmful;
  • An herbal preparation or supplement affects the action of a drug;
  • A food or non-alcoholic drink reacts with a drug;
  • An alcoholic drink interacts with a drug.

The FDA recommends telling every healthcare provider about all medications, herbal preparations and supplements being taken and to discuss any potential side effects and interactions with your pharmacist or doctor.