It's easy for patients to make significant mistakes with their medications. We know this because statistics show that every minute, around three Americans call a poison control center because they have done just that. Furthermore, data shows that the rate of serious mistakes is on the rise, with many errors leading to a hospital stay. While mistakes are inevitable, clinicians can help reduce their likelihood. That's where the importance of medication education for patients comes in.
To help patients avoid making medication errors and understand what to do if they have questions or concerns about their medications, clinicians should focus on the following eight areas of medication education.
When prescribing a new medication, make sure the patient understands what the drug is intended to treat. Reviewing this will help patients take their medication appropriately. This is particularly important for medications intended to treat the onset of symptoms, such as headache, nausea, or diarrhea.
2. Effects and Side Effects
Discuss with patients the intended effects and possible or expected side effects of the medication. This will help patients determine whether a medication is working appropriately. It will also help patients identify undesired side effects that may require intervention.
3. Name and Qualities
Rather than just write a prescription, say the name of the medication you are prescribing to the patient and ask the patient to repeat it. Also, discuss the qualities of the medication: type (e.g., tablet, liquid), color, size, texture, and shape. If possible, show the patient a visual of the medication.
Going through these few extra steps can help patients identify if their pharmacy makes a mistake in filling the prescription. Patients should also be encouraged to check refills for errors. If anything about a filled prescription appears different than what you reviewed, patients should be encouraged to speak with their pharmacist.
When patients fail to properly follow a prescription's instructions, they risk experiencing the effects of under- or over-dosing. Review new prescription instructions with patients before they complete their visit, then encourage patients to always review instructions before taking medications.
Remind patients of the importance of taking the exact dose prescribed and using any measuring device that comes with liquid medications. Tell patients that if they lose this device that they should get a replacement rather than attempt to measure the amount prescribed any other way that could lead to an incorrect dosage.
Make sure patients understand what they should not do when taking a medication. This may include drinking alcohol and driving. When reviewing a medication's warnings, explain why they are necessary. Rather than just say, "Do not drink and drive when taking this medication," you might say, "Do not drink and drive when taking this medication as the medication can blur your vision and make your drowsy."
Some people are naturally inclined to ignore general warnings; by providing more details about why a warning is appropriate, the seriousness may hit home more effectively.
6. Responding to Side Effects
Any medication can cause side effects. As noted earlier, patients should understand what side effects are commonly associated with their medication. They should also know what to do and not do if they experience any side effects, including stopping a medication or taking other medications. Let patients know what to do if they experience a side effect and are unsure about how to respond, including how to reach you or another clinician who can provide guidance, or going to the emergency room.
7. Importance of Asking Questions
Healthcare can be an overwhelming topic for patients. It can feel even more overwhelming when a clinician is prescribing medications with names patients have never heard of and possibly for significant health reasons. On top of this, some patients may be intimidated by clinicians. These and other factors can cause patients to clam up and choose not to ask questions about their condition and medications.
Emphasize the importance of patients speaking up, asking questions, and expressing concerns. Work to create an environment that makes patients more willing to open up. Be sensitive to the possibility that a patient may feel more comfortable speaking with a clinician who shares certain qualities with them, such as gender, religion, race, and age.
8. Value of Transparency
It's important for clinicians to know all they can about a patient's health history, which includes medications and dietary supplements the patient is on and, in some cases, has previously taken. Patients may not fully appreciate or understand how this information can influence the treatment decisions made by clinicians, including new prescriptions or changes to a medication regimen.
Explain the role patients play in and the importance of a complete, accurate medication record. If you have any doubts about a patient's willingness to share all details, outline the potential risks of an incomplete record. Tell patients to reach out immediately if they realize following a visit that they omitted a medication.