Digital Drug Companions Can Prevent Medication Errors
On average, more than 7,000 Americans die each year due to medication errors[i]. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of other patients experience complications and adverse reactions from medication mismanagement. These side-effects can include psychological and physical pain and suffering because of medication errors. It can also harm the effectiveness of long-term medication use and the ability to support chronic conditions. It’s clear that medication misuse and errors are a serious and deadly issue, and with more Americans using medications for more health issues, addressing these risky complications is of utmost importance.
How medication errors occur
Forty-eight percent of all Americans take one or more medications every day[ii]. This figure doesn’t include over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or supplements, which, when combined, can create complications in the effectiveness and side-effects of prescription medications. In addition to mixing drugs, patients may create hazards by changing their drug regimen on their own or stopping the use of prescribed medications. Or they may replace them with alternative medicines, which aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and aren’t necessarily safe or effective. The most common errors are taking the wrong medication or incorrect dosage, and inadvertently taking medication twice. One-third of medication errors resulted in hospital admission.
The incidence and costs of medication errors
Medication errors happen every day, and each year more than 7 million patients are affected. This crisis is not only deadly serious but also proves costly, leading to additional physician visits, hospital stays, and rehabilitation costs attributed to medication misuse. The total cost of looking after patients with medication-associated errors exceeds $40 billion each year. In addition to rising costs, a major consequence of medication errors is decreased patient satisfaction with medication use, and a growing lack of trust in the healthcare system[iii].
The role of OTC and supplements in medication errors
Each year, Americans spend billions of dollars on non-prescription medications to treat everything from headaches to indigestion. These drugs can deliver safe, immediate relief; but they can be dangerous if misused or combined with other medicines. Combinations of OTC pain relievers or cold medicine are those most combined with prescription medications. In addition, complications from combining OTC medications with prescription drugs comes from exceeding the recommended dose, taking more than required within a 24-hour period, which can reduce the effectiveness of prescription drugs.
Supplements and vitamins also pose a risk to prescription medications, as many natural minerals and herbal ingredients can create complications for prescription medications. And since supplements and vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, it can be hard to determine the full ingredients or quantities in a single dose. Certain dietary supplements can change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication and therefore provide either too much or too little of a medication.
Reviewing for contraindications
For patients who take prescription medications, it’s important to monitor what is being taken and when. This is especially true if there is a risk of combining medications, including OTC drugs. Patients and caregivers can reduce the chance of medication risk by keeping records of all medications taken, whether prescriptions or OTC, as well as vitamins and supplements. These lists can also be shared with a doctor or pharmacist to evaluate any potential drug interactions.
If patients are thinking of adding a dietary supplement to their daily routine, it’s important to check with a provider or pharmacist first so they can review for complications from other medications. Patients may also want to use a digital drug companion to help manage what medications are taken, when they should be taken, and review the interaction checker to prevent risks.
Using a digital drug companion for checks and balances in medication use
Between daily prescription medications, daily vitamins, supplements, and OTC medications, juggling what meds to take and when can be complex and confusing. It’s moments like these that happen daily and lead to medication overdoses or contraindications that impact the effectiveness of medications and pose serious risk to patient health. In today’ digital age, managing this process is made easier with smartphone applications. Digital drug companions help patients manage what to take, when to take it, and can check for serious interactions when combined with other medications.
Digital drug companions such as Medisafe can review each patient’s medications, including OTC and supplements, and indicate if there is a risk in combining medications. Digital platforms can also give access to caregivers for additional oversight. Medisafe can also send alerts if a patient stops using medications, can assist with first fill issues, and help with refills and managing side-effects from medications. This advanced interaction provides a necessary checks-and-balances in medication use to prevent overdoses, mixing medications, and ensuring patients adhere to proper medication schedules.
Medication errors are a common issue in healthcare and cost billions of dollars nationwide and are a leading cause of medication complications and death. By implementing some simple steps associated with medication use, many medication misuse errors can be avoided and support greater medication adherence and positive outcomes. And with the advance of new digital tools and digital drug companions, managing medication use and supporting the patient journey has never been easier. Now is the time to educate patients on the risks of medication misuse and inform on how to manage medications to achieve better health and positive outcomes.
[i] Charatan F. Medical errors kill almost 100000 Americans a year. BMJ. 1999;319(7224):1519. doi:10.1136/bmj.319.7224.1519. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1117251/
[ii] National Center for Health Statistics https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/drug-use-therapeutic.htm