Prescription Medication Safety: The Caregiver's Role
By Jennifer Buckley

Over two million Americans experience adverse drug reactions from prescription medication each year. Patients develop complications from these medications when doctors, pharmacists, and health care professionals ignore precautionary measures and lack communication skills. Prescription medication safety is crucial to prevent patients from suffering adverse drug reactions or death. Caregivers can become involved in preventing these errors. 

Properly prescribing and administering medication means knowing all the facts. Caregivers can actively prevent allergic reactions, crossover reactions, adverse drug reactions and overdoses by educating themselves. (Crossover reactions occur when a care recipient takes incompatible medications). Knowing all the facts includes knowing the medical history of their care recipient and informing the health care provider.

  • Make sure to provide complete medical records to the health care provider. Records can be sent by a previous provider or brought by the caregiver or patient. Medical history records should contain surgeries, immunizations, allergies and family health history (i.e. diabetes, colon cancer). It is also important to notify the health care provider of any social changes. Social changes include: sleeping patterns, work schedules, and special diets. This will assist the health care provider in choosing a compatible medication.

  • Following the directions of the medication is imperative to ensure safety. Read all written hand out material and instructions carefully. Dispense only the recommended dosage at one time and finish the entire prescription if instructed. All prescribed drugs should have a physician package insert and provide proper labeling. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires prescription pharmaceutical manufactures to offer patients certain information about the drug. This insert should include how to safely administer the drug, possible side effects, and when to take it. Find out if the medication should be taken before or after eating, with a glass of water, and if any foods or drinks should be avoided. The label will also indicate if any activities like driving should be avoided due to drowsiness while on the medication. If any information is unclear, contact the pharmacy or health care provider. 

  • There is a possibility of side effects with most prescribed medications. A side effect is a secondary and unusual adverse effect of the drug that may or may not be predicted. They are in addition to the sought after effect of the medication. It is necessary to be educated on the possible side effects of any prescribed drugs. Many pharmaceutical manufacturers have a web site or toll- free phone number to inform caregivers about the side effects of a particular drug.

  • After the drug has been administered, it is important of be aware of the care recipientís reaction. Monitoring the care recipient after administering the medication could prevent an overdose or fatal situation. If symptoms seem unusual or rare, contact an emergency number immediately.

  • Never administer prescription drugs in the dark and be sure to keep them in their original containers. This will avoid mix-ups with other medications. Constantly monitor expiration dates. 

The caregiver and recipient can play a large part in medication risk reduction by communicating openly with health care professionals, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies. Prescription medications are meant to assist in the healing process, but are not without risk.

 

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