Medication safety is the most fundamental issue when one is taking his or her medication. Malaysian’s awareness towards medication safety is still at a superficial level where most of us thought that medication safety issue is something which we only read about. It is always only until any serious damage or life threatening issue happens, we then realize the importance of medication safety.
Based on our experience and international practices, medication safety issue can be divided into 6 core aspects which are Right Medication, Right Route, Right Dose, Right Time, Right Patient and Right Source.
The first aspect of medication safety is taking the right medication. Most of the time, consumers are not aware of the names and indications or functions of the medication that are prescribed or dispensed by their doctors or pharmacists. Being a responsible consumer, we should always insist on the correct labeling of the name of the medications that are given to us. Although it is the responsibility of the pharmacist, but we should also play a role in ensuring the medication provided are properly labeled.
In the case when the list of medications is too long and the names are too difficult to remember, then a proper medication list is needed. This is known as a “Medilist”. You may request your pharmacist to prepare a Medilist for you which has a cleare detail record of your medications, drug allergy and personal details. You can bring the list along with you and to show your other healthcare providers so that there will be no duplication of medications being prescribed or dispensed which could lead to potential drug interaction.
Contrary to popular belief, not all the medications are to be taken orally. There are different dosage forms of medicines that are actually administered non-orally route such as enema, suppository, creams, ointment, gel, pessary, nasal spray and solution for intravenous injection. In Malaysia, most of the product inserts are written in medical terms which are not commonly understood by layman.
There was once a young woman who came to the pharmacy to get her medication for vaginal thrush and was given a pessary to be inserted into the vagina. However, probably out of embarrassment or lack of time, the woman went home without understanding the right way of administering the medicine. As the shape of the pessary resembles to that of a tablet, she swallowed the pessary. After a few days, she came back to the pharmacy and complained of unresolved vaginal thrush. Fortunately, she did not suffer from any major adverse effects other that a few episodes of diarrhea. Should the medication she accidentally ingest is potent and has serious adverse effects, then the consequence might be fatal.
The therapeutic effect of the medicine is dependent on the dosage as an under-dose treatment will not provide the optimum therapeutic effect and an overdosed treatment will cause toxic effect. The right dosage is especially important for antibiotics. If a patient does not take the antibiotics as prescribed, it might cause the bacteria to develop resistance towards the antibiotics. As a result, a higher dosage or a stronger antibiotic is required to treat the infection. Patients should always consult their doctors or pharmacists before adjusting the dosage of their medications.
Most medications require specific or fixed time of administration. For example, certain oral contraceptives must be taken at the same time every day. If there is a time lapse in administering the medication, it might affect the optimum effect of the contraceptive pill.
The consequences are more serious for certain diabetes medication. If a patient takes the diabetes medicine at the wrong time of the day, it might cause hypoglycemia which can be life-threatening. To ensure patients adhere to the specific or fixed time of medication administration, a simple medication packaging system called Medicpack is available. It has be proven to reduce the error when taking medicines.
The aspect of right patient is something that we have always neglected. Malaysians are well-known of the good trait of sharing. However, in the case of medicine, it should not be shared under any circumstances. Some of the diseases might have similar symptoms but required a totally different treatment regimen.
Whenever it comes to my attention that someone is taking other’s medication for the same symptoms, I never fail to warn them that medicine is not something to be shared with others, not even with your closest family members.
The last aspect of medication safety is the right source of medicine. There are two issues related to this aspect. The first issue is that consumers should only get their supply of medication from registered pharmacies, clinics or hospitals. This is to ensure that consumers obtain the correct, genuine and registered medicine.
In Malaysia, the issue of counterfeit medicine and unregistered medicine should not be taken lightly. Counterfeit medicines are slowly creeping into the market with its unreasonably low price. Some of the counterfeit medicines contain toxic ingredient(s) or a higher strength of active ingredient to provide more potent effect. The consequences of buying counterfeit medicine can be fatal. A smart consumer should always check with his/her trusted pharmacist to ensure that his/her medications are registered and genuine.
Besides that, according to the guidelines from the Canadian Health Department, patients should have the good habit of getting their supplies of medication from the same pharmacy. By doing so, the pharmacist can keep track of the patient’s medication history and assist in the best treatment outcome from the medications.
As a conclusion, reducing error and harm from medicines through safe and quality use of medicine is an important element of pharmacist’ work. I believe that we have gained a better understanding on the importance of medication safety from this article. Start building a good relationship with your pharmacist today and we will definitely be your partner in your journey of seeking a better health.