Most older Americans take multiple medicines every day. But a new poll suggests they don’t get – or seek – enough help to make sure those medicines actually mix safely. That lack of communication could be putting older adults at risk of health problems from interactions between their drugs, and between their prescription drugs and other substances such as over-the-counter medicines, supplements, food and alcohol.
The new results, from U-M’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, show that only about one in three older Americans who take at least one prescription drug have talked to anyone about possible drug interactions in the past two years. Even among those taking six or more different medicines, only 44 percent had talked to someone about possible drug interactions.
Multiple Doctors, Multiple Pharmacists
Part of the reason for lack of communication about drug interactions may lie in how older Americans get their health care and their medicines.
- 1 in 5 respondents have used more than one pharmacy in the last two years
- 3 in 5 see multiple doctors
And even though 63 percent said their doctor and pharmacist are equally responsible for spotting and talking about possible drug interactions, only 36 percent said their pharmacist definitely knew about all the medications they’re taking when they fill a prescription.
With the expansion of electronic health records and prescribing systems, physicians and pharmacists have tools that will alert them to potential drug interactions. But not all medical computer systems talk to one another, and information about over-the-counter and supplement use may not be included in electronic drug alert systems.
Conversations Are Crucial
Patents should write down the names and dosages of their prescription medicines, and of any supplements and over-the-counter drugs they take, and bring it all to their doctors’ appointments or pharmacies, according to the report. It is also important to be truthful about alcohol consumption when asked, since alcohol use can affect many medications.
And patients shouldn’t just stop taking a medicine if they think they’re experiencing a side effect – they should also call their doctor’s office or speak with a pharmacist first.
A Helpful Tool: Comprehensive Medication Review
The U-M prescription drug plan offers another important tool for individuals taking five or more prescription medications, called a Comprehensive Medication Review. Members who take five or more medications and receive a recommendation from their Michigan Medicine primary care doctor have the opportunity to work with a pharmacist to review all their drugs together and make any recommended changes.
Participation in the voluntary program helps ensure that medications are working well for the patient. It can also improve safety and lower costs.