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Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004)
The Savvy Patient: How to Get the Best Health Care (Capital Books, 2004)
CBN.com More than 40,000 Americans die each year from medication errors. While another 1.5 million are injured. Mindy pierce’s father, Jerry, was one of them.
“To lose control of your body and to not feel there’s anything you can do to rectify the situation is extremely difficult to deal with emotionally, psychologically, and of course physically,” Mindy says. “That’s what my dad experienced, and I watched him more or less crumble under the burden of all of that.”
Pharmacists, doctors, and other healthcare experts agree that there are major problems with medication errors in America. If you think we’ve already solved this with technology, you’re in for a surprise.
Pharmacist Edward Davidson says, “The medication therapy we provide today is very complex. People are taking a multitude of medications, some upwards of 10-a-day.”
Dr. Michael Roizen, author of The Smart Patient, says, “It’s much more common to see one patient getting another patient’s medicines by mistake.”
“If you go to an emergency room or you get admitted to the hospital, people think there is some master computer that they’re going to to figure out the medications you’re on, how often they should be taken,” says the founder of Senior Corp., Inc., Tom Knox. “That’s not really the case.”
Managing your medications in and out of the hospital is critical, especially when you’re taking several drugs at a time. It’s extremely dangerous when doctors prescribe different drugs without knowing what you already take. This can lead to what is known as “the prescribing cascade.”
“What happens is people are prescribed all these medications and some of the medications cause side effects,” explains Dr. Davidson. “So they go in to see another physician, and the physician looks at the side effect and says, ‘You have a new medical problem.’ They prescribe a medication for the side effect, and the list just keeps building and building and building. What actually they’ve done is they’re treating side effects with new medications.”
Mindy’s father, Jerry, was trapped in this nightmare. He was admitted to a hospital because of high blood pressure, but soon faced a multitude of seemingly unrelated symptoms.
Mindy recalls, “It got so bad that he started having kidney failure, because this constant attack on his body of medication, after medication, after medication. Nothing was working. Nothing was changing anything, but his body was constantly being barraged with the side effects. [It] took a toll in his kidneys.”
Treating side effects with extra medications isn’t the only problem. Many times a doctor’s bad handwriting can lead to getting the wrong prescription. Something else you might not have considered, doctors can also prescribe incorrect medication using computer programs.
Dr. Davidson says, “Some of the examples of things that have happened with that the computer systems have created are drugs that we call ‘look alike/sound alike’ drugs. If you scroll down the list of medications in the computer system, they’re right next to each other.”
The idea that any doctor could accidentally kill one of their patients with a simple click of the mouse is frightening, but it doesn’t end there. Many computer systems still aren’t equipped to handle sophisticated medical advice like drug interactions or allergies.
Knox says, “A couple holes that are out there right now are that more and more people are taking supplements [of which] doctors really have no knowledge. I think [they] don’t want to get into trying to figure all out how supplements work with medications.”
Even when the right medications are prescribed, only about half are filled or taken correctly. One study found that parents gave their children the wrong dose of over-the-counter fever medicine 47 percent of the time.
Plus, there’s a misconception that if you cut a pill in half you’ll always get half the dose.
Dr. Roizen explains, “If you look at a pill, it looks all pink. You think it is the same. But if you cut it up, the active ingredient may be over here or maybe over here or maybe distributed uniformly or maybe just in a slice of that. So this is a problem.”
Just because a professional might be taking care of you, it doesn’t mean you’re getting the right drugs or dosage. According to the institute of medicine, on average, a hospitalized patient is subject to at least one medication error per day. In most cases, the patient is never even told there’s been a mistake. That was the case with Mindy’s father. Jerry’s health seemed to be getting worse. Instead of giving him answers, the doctors gave him more pills.
“They’re afraid to say, ‘I don’t know what to do here.’ Instead they say, ‘Let’s try this.’ That’s making the person a guinea pig. That’s subjecting them to a situation where there are not even vague assurances that it’s going to work.”
Her father’s kidneys eventually shut down. His body was no longer able to remove toxins. Six months later, Jerry Pierce passed away at the age of 75.
“I can honestly say that the last year and a half of my father’s life was literally hell on earth for everyone,” Mindy confesses. “I would not wish anyone to leave this earth like the way my father did.”
So what, if anything, is our government and other healthcare agencies doing to try to reduce the alarming number of medication errors? And more importantly, what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? In Overdosing America Part 2, we’ll take a closer look.
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