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Medication safety: A patient, care provider partnership

By Capts. Valerie Cavazos and Catherine Giordano | 12th Medical Group | April 25, 2008

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — What medications are you taking? How are you taking your medications? Why are you taking the medications you are on? Do you have any allergies? 

These are some common questions that you are probably asked every time you visit your health care provider. Pay attention. It may seem like small talk, but it is not just idle conversation. 

A patient's medical needs are best served when patients and providers are partners in care. Clear communication between the patient and provider is crucial for the health, safety and proper treatment of the patient. 

According to the article, "Knowing your medicine can be a matter of life and death," written in March 2006, it is important to remember that "the first line of responsibility in the process of delivering care is the patient's." The patient must take responsibility for clearly and accurately relating his or her medical history to the health care provider. 

Nowhere is this concept more critical than when it comes to medication. Some medications can interact with each other with negative or unforeseeable effects. Sometimes, the fact that a patient is taking one medication will change the dosage that a health care provider will prescribe for another drug. 

Knowing what medications a person is allergic to and what medications he or she is taking helps ensure that new medications are prescribed correctly. In extreme cases, knowing this information can mean the difference between life and death. 

In an effort to help patients become more aware of their medications and minimize errors that might cause harm to patients, the 12th Medical Group is utilizing a process called medication reconciliation. According to the Joint Commission in an article titled "Medication reconciliation: challenges and opportunities," written last year, medication reconciliation is defined as "the process of comparing the medications that the patient/client/resident has been taking prior to the time of admission or entry to a new setting with the medications that the organization is about to provide." 

In other words, medication reconciliation means checking what medications a patient is already taking every time he or she visits his or her health care provider so new medications can be safely introduced. 

On base, the 12th Medical Group providers and staff will be reviewing and updating the patient's active medication at every appointment. This is where partnership in patient care becomes so important. 

Patients are the primary source of information regarding their medications. The computer system on base can only provide information about what medications a patient is currently taking, and only those that have been prescribed and provided through the military system. Information about past medications and medications prescribed or purchased off base is not available through the computer system. Emergency rooms, urgent care centers, civilian providers and specialists are not able to update medication changes to the medical records at the 12th Medical Group. Additionally, if the computer system cannot be accessed, the provider still needs to know what medications a patient is taking in order to provide good, safe and effective care. 

It is helpful to bring a list of all current and recent medications or even to bring the pharmacy bottles to the appointment for the medical staff to review. People who use many medications may choose to carry an updated list in their wallets or purses at all times in case the information becomes necessary. All medications - prescription, over-the-counter, herbal and vitamin - should be included. At the clinic, the patient's medical record will be compared to this list and be updated as necessary. Health care providers should take the time to clarify how and when to use medications and answer any questions the patient may have. 

Finally, each patient will be given a copy of their current medication list as a record to keep and show to any health care providers, both on and off base, that they may see in the future. Pocket-sized booklets for medication lists are also available at all clinic desks in the 12th Medical Group. Just ask for a "My Medicine" book to keep track of medications. Be sure to keep your list up to date.

The 12th Medical Group's medication reconciliation efforts include supporting a partnership between patients and providers to ensure medication awareness and safety and to optimize every patient's health. 

So next time you visit your health care provider, join in the conversation armed and ready with your current medication list. After all, your provider's "small talk" can help you in a very big way.