Pharmacists provide valuable link to correct medications

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- October is American Pharmacists Month and Talk About Prescriptions Month, and the fourth week, Oct. 22-28, is National Pharmacy Week. The 377th Medical Group will announce one or more periods where pharmacists will be available for questions. The Health and Wellness Center will also be hosting a "Meet Your Pharmacist" session Oct. 27. A pharmacist will be available 11 a.m. to noon to answer questions about prescriptions.

"Medication errors are a major problem within the medical field," said Terrance Duke, a registered nurse for the 377th MDG.

He said misuse of antibiotics is widespread and that patients often don't realize what they are doing to themselves. Often, well-meaning parents will misuse medicines for their babies and children. They will follow the instructions and doses carefully until the child begins to feel better, then will either forget to follow through with the entire prescription or will stop, believing the child is well and needs no further medication.

The real harm occurs if the child relapses. "The organism may be beaten down, but not gone," said Mr. Duke. The lapse in treatment gives it a chance to develop a resistance to the antibiotic, making recovery more difficult. Or, the child may recover completely and at the next occurrence of illness the parent will go back to the unused portion of the prescription, he said.

"Sometimes, the child does get better, but sometimes the illness is completely different and needs different treatment. If you don't use all of a prescription, throw the rest of it out. The parents may believe they are saving money on unnecessary doctor visits, but they may be compromising their child's health," he said.

Another all-too-common error patients make is neglecting to tell their physicians about every medication they are taking as well as any over-the-counter herbal supplements or neutraceuticals. They can all interact with prescribed medicine. Anesthesia and herbal products together can be very dangerous. It is imperative that your health care provider knows what you are taking, he said.

Maj. Randy Durr at the 377th MDG said seniors are an especially high risk group for both mixing up medicines and dosages, and taking prescriptions from different providers who are unaware of the others' dosages and methods and either having a bad reaction, or conflicting treatments which make all the treatments less effective.

"As we get older, we usually see more doctors and receive more prescriptions. For instance, you may have a cardiologist, a family medicine physician and perhaps an endocrinologist if you have diabetes. Those doctors may prescribe drugs which would interact with each other. Or they may even be prescribing the same medication for different conditions. Also as people age, their bodies process drugs and nutrients differently, and the dosage may need to be adjusted," said Major Durr.

The pharmacist can provide information and assistance in all of the above situations by helping the patient understand their medicines, pointing out any adverse interactions and helping make sure the dosages are correct. "If the patient goes to the same place for all their prescriptions, the pharmacist can provide that connectivity between physicians and treatments as well as updating the listing of all the medications and providing copies to give to each provider," he added. "Everyone should get an updated list one or two times a year and whenever the medicines change."

As if that weren't enough, the medications themselves can be the problem. "The look-alike, sound-alike names are creating a huge patient safety issue," said Major Durr.

He said the 377th MDG pharmacy maintains an ongoing list, and it is their policy to help counteract the likelihood of errors through labeling and storage. If a patient takes two drugs with similarities that include packaging, then the pharmacist will look for ways to create visual distinction, sometimes by purchasing a different brand.

The 377th MDG is planning on holding some special pharmacy days, and will be helping patients with the Keep It With You Personal Medical Information Form, a document developed by the Centers for Disease control and Prevention as part of their effort to help people with medical conditions continue to receive needed care in the event of an emergency. The KIWY form is not intended to replace other, more detailed medical records, but is a communication tool to help people as they navigate a potentially complex system of temporary support, housing and clinical services, according to the CDC Web site. The site suggests that care providers photocopy the document after an individual receives care, in order to maintain a record of who was seen and what treatment was provided. The original form is intended to remain with the individual during the time they are displaced. The form can serve as an interim summary when normal care can be resumed. The form can also be downloaded from their Web site at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/katrina/pdf/kiwy.pdf.

A similar program is the Vial of Life Project, which has similar forms and includes a decal to place in a prominent place telling emergency workers where to find your medical information. This Web site is at www.vialoflife.com. In addition to medical information, this project suggests you include emergency contact information, your normal blood pressure and any other important information, such as a living will, Do Not Resuscitate form, insurance information and a picture of yourself.

The primary goal, both of the designation of pharmacy month and week, and of the 377th MDG pharmacy personnel, is patient safety. "It is the patients' obligation to know what medications they are getting. They should know the brand and generic names, why they are taking it, what it looks like and instructions for taking it, such as with or without food, and any other precautions," said Major Durr.

Major Durr said a patient should not leave the pharmacist's window without asking about their prescription. "I always say, 'Thank you for asking!' It keeps me on my toes regarding information and ultimately, we're here to serve the customers."