Tom Pickering - Headshot Tom Pickering

Tom Pickering, Pharm. D., has been a pharmacist with the Cone Health System for 18 years and is currently Administrative Coordinator of Transitions of Care at the Wesley Long Hospital campus.

It is likely you will hear this statement when you go to the hospital or to a doctor’s appointment. In order to take care of you safely and effectively, it is vital that health care providers have accurate information about you. Medication errors are a serious problem and it is estimated that 40 percent of medication errors are related to handoffs during admission, transfer, and discharge.1 A symptom or problem you are having could be related to the medications you are taking or how you are taking them. Also, if you are given your medications differently while in the hospital you could develop symptoms that might obscure the real problem.

Common responses to the statement above are, “I’m sure the list in the computer is right” and “Nothing has changed since the last time I was here”. I wish it was that simple but in reality those lists are rarely 100% accurate.

Common reasons include:

  • All doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies do not have access to the same information.
  • Medications may have been prescribed but never picked up or started.
  • Medications may remain on the list long after you stopped taking them.
  • You may have either stopped taking or changed the way you take medication because of the way it makes you feel, high cost, confusing instructions, or a doctor may have told you to take it differently.

Make sure you understand how to take your medications. Ask a doctor or pharmacist for clarification.

Only you (or your caregiver) know what medications you are taking and how you are taking them.
A complete medication list should include all the medications you use. Besides prescription medications, it is important for your list to include the non-prescription (over-the-counter) items you take. This includes vitamins and herbal supplements. In addition to things taken by mouth, your list should include medications you put in your eyes or ears, medications you inhale through your nose or mouth, medications you put on your skin, and medications you inject.

Details matter
Providing the name and strength of each medication may seem good enough but health care providers need to know the details. How many do you take at a time? How many times a day? At what times of day? Do you take it on a regular basis or only as needed? I realize that remembering this much information can be daunting!

A pharmacist’s advice

  • Work to keep your medication list updated. Note even slight changes and details.
  • Keep your medication list with you at all times if possible and bring your list to every hospital and office visit. (You may also consider bringing your actual medications with you)
  • Be honest. If you are not taking a medication, tell your doctor why. They might be able to help.
  • Understand the purpose of each medication. Note it on the list.
  • Understand how to take your medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification.

You are in charge so safety starts with you. Help ensure you get the best health care possible by providing health care providers with accurate information.

1 Rozich JD, Howard RJ, Justeson JM, et al. Patient safety standardization as a mechanism to improve safety in health care. Jt Comm J Qual Saf. 2004;30(1):5–14.