Campaign to Raise Awareness of Medication Lists
Rationale for this awareness-raising campaign
Nearly 76,000 New Brunswickers say they have trouble understanding written information on a medication or health prescription, according to the report My Community at a Glance 2017, New Brunswick Community Profile Report by the New Brunswick Health Council.
Because a well-informed patient is a safe patient, the local primary care coordination committee for the Restigouche Zone has launched this regional awareness-raising campaign to:
- Make the public aware of the importance of having their full medication list on hand every time they see a health professional;
- Make health professionals aware of the importance of always checking a patient’s medications before giving them a new prescription;
- Reduce the incidence of preventable adverse medication events.
Prevalence of medication-related incidents and their consequences
In Canada, 7,531 medication-related incidents causing harm were reported from January 2015 to January 2020. More than 90 people died.
Hydromorphone and insulin are among the medications most frequently involved (ISMP newsletter, December 22, 2020).
In New Brunswick:
- 11.4% of the population is diabetic (16.8% in the Restigouche), a condition for which insulin is prescribed;
- 14.1% of the population suffers from chronic pain (17.9% in the Restigouche), a condition for which hydromorphone is often prescribed.
Because information is the best prescription:
- Always check a patient’s medications before issuing a new prescription;
- Ensure that a patient has a good understanding of their medications and how to take them.
Here are some situations that could have been prevented along with some tips:
- For consumers: Conquer silence and ask questions
- For community prescribers and pharmacists: The labels of calcium-based products create confusion that leads to hospitalizations
The importance of checking a patient’s medication list before issuing a new prescription
A study conducted in Alberta in 1997 revealed that 14.9% of physicians do not know the names of the 3.5 over-the-counter medications (on average) taken by their patients age 75 and over. (Torrible, S.J. & Hogan, D.B., “Medication use and rural seniors. Who really knows what they are taking?” Canadian Family Physician. Le médecin de famille canadien.Vol 43: May 1997.)
According to a geriatrician with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal:
- Two thirds of Canadian seniors are currently taking at least five prescription medications;
- Nearly a third of seniors are taking ten or more medications;
- Seniors are at five times greater risk of hospitalization for adverse medication reactions;
- Medication-related falls are one of the main reasons that seniors are hospitalized.
Relevant links for health professionals:
- Learn about the main issues associated with falls according to an analysis of medication incidents: Medication Incidents that Increase the Risk of Falls: A Multi-Incident Analysis
- Learn how to make medication safety a priority in Canada: Make medication safety a priority in Canada
Since similar medications are sometimes available under different names, people can take two medications that are similar without knowing it, which makes it important to always check patients' medication list at every appointment.
Here’s an example:
Acetaminophen is a popular pain and fever medication. It can be bought over the counter, i.e. without a doctor’s prescription. Generally sold under the brand name Tylenol®, it is also available under other brand names such as Atasol® Tempra® and Abenol®.
Here are three important facts about acetaminophen:
- Acetaminophen is a pharmaceutical ingredient in more than 700 over-the-counter or prescription medications;
- Acetaminophen is the main cause of acute kidney failure in Canada;
Accidental acetaminophen overdoses cause over 700 hospitalizations in Canada every year.
Health Canada's advice on acetaminophen:
New symptoms could be caused by one of the medications that you’re taking. This is a second important reason to always show your medication list at every appointment with a health professional.
Some helpful tips:
The importance of a patient knowing the medications they’re taking
Because all medications are potentially dangerous, a patient needs to know the medications they’re taking and how to take them safely. Whenever you prescribe a new medication, make sure the patient knows its name and dosage and how often it is to be taken.
A medication may have to be taken “as needed.” Make sure the patient has a good understanding of what “as needed” means for their condition.
Ensuring that a patient knows their medications and how to take them is a way of collaborating with the Vitalité Health Network in its vision “Together, toward a healthy population.”
Here is some advice on pharmaceutical treatments:
Did you know that...
Certain completely different medications have similar names, either in how they’re written or pronounced?
This can cause sometimes dangerous medication errors. With thousands of pharmaceuticals on the market in Canada, mix-ups can easily occur!
Here are some examples of medications that require care to prevent errors:
- Celebrex (for pain) and Celexa (for anxiety);
- Losec (for digestive problems) and Lasix (for heart or kidney problems).
Certain medications can be very attractive to children because they look like candy?
For example, amiodarone, which is prescribed to treat heart conditions, can cause very dangerous reactions. Despite that, amiodarone looks very much like Rockets® candies. Some medications are even shaped like jujubes or suckers.
A study found that one out of four kindergarten students cannot tell the difference between candies and medications. And not only children: one teacher out of five was also unable to tell the difference. This confirms the importance of storing medications safely. (Naître et grandir, October 18, 2011)
Certain medications must not be taken together?
Certain medications can interact, which can increase the side effects, reduce the desired effects or cause new effects. Certain interactions can be dangerous, such as the increased risk of bleeding that comes with taking Aspirin® and Coumadin® together.
Frequently asked questions
- Do I still need this medication?
- Am I taking too many medications?
- How to check medication expiry dates?
- Should leftover medications be kept at home?
True or false?
- True:40% of Canadian over 65 are taking medications considered useless or potentially harmful to them.
- False:What works for me will work for you.
- False:It doesn’t matter where I keep my medications.
- False:If one is good, two will be better.
- True:Suddenly stopping a medication can be harmful.
- True:Be cautious about health information you get off the Internet.