Patients lack important life-saving health information
People who take prescription medicine want a lot more information than they get. That's the conclusion of a new pharmacy study (Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, July-Aug. 2011).
A survey of 600 people picking up prescriptions at pharmacies in Western states found that 90 percent of these volunteers wanted more information when they got a new prescription filled.
What did they want to know? Seventy percent of them wanted to learn about possible side effects or drug interactions. A third wanted basic directions for use. Two-thirds of these customers wanted more than one type of information, and about 15 percent said the basic directions didn't go far enough. These folks wanted to know about taking the drug with or without food, juice, water or vitamins as well as driving restrictions or any other cautions.
Sometimes pharmacists assume that people getting refills already have all the information they need, but more than two-thirds of the respondents wanted questions answered.
Many wanted to review how to take the drug or be alerted to any newly discovered side effects or hazards. A number of patients wanted the pharmacist to check on how they were doing. When patients are not advised about adverse drug reactions or monitored for progress or problems, bad things can happen. One woman shared her tragic story:
"My husband died from amiodarone toxicity of the lungs. He took the medicine for seven months. No one ever warned us about the side effects of this medication.
"He kept telling all his healthcare providers that he was having breathing problems and he told them what drugs he was taking. He died a slow death of gasping for each breath."
Amiodarone is prescribed for irregular heart rhythms. It has a black box warning about lung toxicity. Every patient who gets a prescription for amiodarone should be cautioned about symptoms that might indicate lung damage or other complications. Too often patients don't get this type of essential information at the pharmacy. Secret shopper studies have shown that less than half of customers are actually given counseling by the pharmacist (JAPhA, July-Aug. 2011).
Why don't people receive critical medication information? Some people may be embarrassed about their medication or afraid to ask seemingly dumb questions. Others perceive the pharmacist as inaccessible or too busy. Many people may not realize that answering questions is central to pharmacists' professional role. Some people don't know what questions they need to ask.
To help readers, we have prepared a Drug Safety Questionnaire that can be given to the prescriber or pharmacist for answers. It can be found in our brand new book, “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.” The reader will also find our list of the top 10 most dangerous drugs, the top 10 screwups doctors and pharmacists make when writing or filling prescriptions and the questions patients should ask.
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Medicines can prevent serious illness and save lives, but only if they are taken correctly. Anyone taking a medication must also know what symptoms might indicate potentially serious side effects and how to respond.