Medication Mix-Ups: How They Happen and What to Do

It is really easy for a person’s medications to get mixed-up.

Here’s a common scenerio:

  • The patient sees his family doctor, and medication is given for one or more conditions
  • The patient might go to an emergency room and another one or two prescriptions are added
  • The patient sees a specialist- maybe an eye doctor or a foot doctor or a cardiologist– and other medicines are prescribed
  • The patient goes to a drugstore clinic on the weekend for a minor illness and gets more medicine
  • The patient is also taking a few supplements from the health food store that the doctor isn’t aware of.

The result: the patient may be on a nonsensical mixture of medications, which may be harmful.

Sometimes, even when a patient is only seeing one doctor, the doctor might add a new drug with the intention of having it replace an existing medication; but either the patient or the doctor forgets to discontinue the previous medicine. The doctor might be intending to switch the patient to a different medication, or just to change the dosage. Either way, there the patient is with a new prescription and so many times the patient continues taking the old medication as well.

Compounding this problem is that when the doctor writes prescriptions for chronic medicines, he usually includes 3-4 months or even a year of refills. So, when the patient continues to take a medication that the doctor has meant to discontinue, then the pharmacy keeps refilling it without calling the doctor, and for months, the doctor has no idea that the patient is still taking the medicine. What happens in these cases is that patients often end up taking several different drugs that are essentially in the same drug class, but the combination of them is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Or, since the doctor no longer knows what the patient is really taking, he may prescribe a medicine at another visit that can be dangerous when taken with the ones he doesn’t know about.

To make sure this problem doesn’t happen to you or yours, be sure to create and maintain a Personal Health Record that lists all of the medications and take printed copies to doctor appointments. This will allow the doctor to take another look and see if any medications need to be discontinued or if any new medications may have negative interactions with current medications.

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