I often find myself drifting into deep thought as I listen to people talk about how many doctors they have and the number of prescription medications they are taking. Electronic medical records in theory will allow healthcare providers to view all the medications you have been prescribed, who prescribed them, and where and when you had them filled. My question is—do we want to relinquish our right to privacy to this degree? Relationships with a healthcare provider is privileged and private and patients should decide who has access to their records and when. In the coming months I will write an entire segment on electronic medical records and how government mandates will affect healthcare providers as well as patients.
Heath Ledgers performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight brought the Joker to a new level. His dedication and interpretation of the character was brilliant. Heath Ledger died on January 22, 2008, of an acute intoxication of prescription and over-the-counter medications including oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine. I often think of Ledgers case when I see patients with long list of medications and multiple doctors.
The other day I took care of a patient who had accidentally overdosed on a prescription pain medication. As I listened to the patient discuss the circumstances surrounding the overdose one thing mentioned haunted me, “The medication was prescribed by my doctor, I thought it was safe.” The patients story caused me to think deeply about drug safety and how we seek medication to cure what ails us. This reminds me of a Chinese Proverb—“It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions but hard to get one single remedy.”
How safe are prescription medications? The answer may surprize you. According to the American Pilots Association, the airline industry boast that a passenger would have to fly 438 years 24 hours a day to be involved in a fatal airline crash. Automobile accidents in the United States claimed 42,642 lives in 2006 (U. S. Census Bureau). In the same year (2006) 72,080 deaths involving prescription medications were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In comparison, in 1999 there were 46,523 deaths nationally involving prescription medication. These statistics highlight the need for community education to heighten awareness of the risk prescription and over-the-counter medications pose to community health.
Limiting the number of healthcare providers and pharmacies can help minimize the number of medications you are taking and possible harmful combinations. Discuss over-the-counter medications with your pharmacist or healthcare provider before adding any medication—regardless of how safe it may seem. Keep your healthcare provider in the loop by discussing plans for second opinions. Maintaining open communications with your healthcare provider is the safest way to protect your health.
Howard Baker, RN BSN
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