dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Be An Educated Patient: Understanding Your Meds

Even a week later, I’m still disturbed by the tragic death of the student I posted about last week. To read that piece, click here: 

It’s so easy when we live with chronic pain/illness to get complaisant about our medical issues. Particularly about our medicines: not knowing how they work, not understanding everything about them, not being careful about how we store them, not being diligent in our dosing schedule, etc.

By coincidence, October is "Talk About Prescriptions Month," which is sponsored by the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE). This effort is designed to maximize safety for those taking prescription medications. (NCPIE’s main focus is safe Acetaminophen use, since it is used in many prescription & OTC medications. Visit this website for more details)

It’s up to us to be educated patients in all respects of our health management. To that end, I’m going to continue to focus this week on medications.


The first step is to fully comprehend what the doctor is writing on his prescription pad. Do you know what agit”, ”p.c. and q.h.s.mean?* 

Doctors use latin-derived abbreviations so a pharmacist will select the right medication and fill out the drug label correctly. An educated patient should know how to read them (or where to look them up) so you can be certain you receive the correct drug and dosage instructions. The pharmacist could make an error when reading the doctor’s handwriting, and you could end up injured if the wrong drug is dispensed or improper directions printed. Knowing what the abbreviations stand for is vital.

*Just so you know, agit means to stir or shake the drug before taking it. The abbreviation p.c. means to take the drug before eating a meal. And q.h.s. indicates the drug should be taken every night at bedtime.

For a complete list of abbreviations which you can easily print out and save, click here: Master List of Prescription Abbreviations

All prescription bottles and boxes come with a label which provides the basic information you need as a patient. Besides your name and the doctor’s name, you’ll find the drug’s brand and generic names, directions for use, warning labels, expiration date, and more. To see all the parts of a drug label identified, go HERE

Be aware that pharmacies use different font sizes, colors, and warnings on their prescription labels. Consumer Reports has done a surprising test to compare just how different the labels can be, and how this could be dangerous if you are not an educated patient. 
All pharmacies are required to include with your medication a Patient Information Sheet with an FDA-approved Medication Guide. These include information on such things as side effects, drug interactions, how to store it, precautions, how the drug works, how to use the drug, what to do if you miss a dose, and more. You should double check that you received it in your bag; if you did not, ask the pharmacist for one or you can go to the FDA website and see if they your drug is on the print out list HERE. Keep these sheets along with your important health documents in case you should ever need to review them. 

Being an educated patient may take a little extra time and effort, but it can certainly help prevent another such tragedy as happened in Colorado. Please keep yourselves safe!


Additional info for educated patients:

Several months ago I wrote a 3-part series on Medication Safety which can also keep you and your family safe. You can read each section by clicking below:

Medication Safety series:
part 3:  A Clean Sweep

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