Prescription medicines unquestionably help people on a daily basis. However, in California alone, 150,000 injuries have resulted from misunderstood prescriptions; either by the doctor prescribing or the pharmacist reading the instructions. More than 1.5 million Americans have been injured each year by medication mistakes and 7,000 people have died. E-prescribing is one area of healthcare reform that can save the taxpayers money and prevent needless injuries to patients.
This fall as California’s legislature convenes for a special session on health care reform, one aspect is to decide whether “e-prescribing” or computerized prescriptions might be a cost effective solution. E-prescribing is just one of the many suggestions that have been recommended by the California Medication Errors Panel, created by then senator Jackie Speier. This panel was created in 2005 to develop strategies for lowering healthcare costs and lessening the injuries related to medications. Other solutions include adding the purpose of the medication on the label, providing different language descriptions if necessary and creating public awareness of proper usage of prescription medicine. By 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger expects that legislation will be passed so that every doctor in California will have access to use e-prescribing in their practices.
On the federal level, it is expected that Medicare, part D will require all physicians to use e-prescribing by 2010. Seniors are the most affected by medication errors due to their reliance on medications as well as drug-to-drug interactions. E-prescribing will allow doctors to view all medications a person may be taking and prescribe only drugs that won’t have any adverse effects. Doctors would have real-time safety alerts and their patient’s medical history, so that fewer injuries may occur. It is expected to reduce healthcare costs by 26 billion and help to avoid 1.9 million medication errors over the next 10 years.
California is taking the lead with over 20% of its doctors using this option today. The nation’s average is around 10%. Some doctors see the advantages, but others think that new sets of problems might occur, like sending the wrong prescription to a patient or mistakenly selecting drugs with “look alike/ sound alike” names. For example, Quinine and Quinidine, or Zyprexa and Zyrtec. These sound and are spelled similarly but have been transposed with dangerous consequences.
So what can a person do to prevent these types of errors from occurring? Here are a few tips to save you from becoming a statistic.
First, make sure that your doctor knows everything that you are taking. This includes over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, vitamins as well as prescription medicines.
At least once a year, bring in everything your taking to your primary care physician. (He may not be aware of other medications if you’ve seen a specialist during the year).
Second, when the doctor writes the prescription, make sure you can read it! If you can’t read the doctors handwriting, chances are that the pharmacist can’t either.
Third, ask lots of questions; what is the name, what is it supposed to do, what are side effects, what are the adverse effects? This medicine is going into your body, so be thorough!
Fourth, when you’re at the pharmacy, verify you have the right prescription. Many pharmacists do this now already, but it is important to know the name and dosage.
Lastly, if you still feel like you need additional information on the medicines you are taking, visit the website, www.rxlist.com. This website has medicines listed from A-Z with all descriptions, side effects, drug interactions and finally, any drug recalls or warnings. This is especially important due to the frequency of advisories in recent months.
For a consumer guide for understanding your medications, visit www.ahrq.gov and link to the free guide. Be safe and smart and understand your medications.