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Five tips to make sure your prescriptions play well together

How to maximize your medicine’s effectiveness and make sure you’re taking it safely


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March 8, 2017

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Have you taken medicine in the last month? You’re not alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost half of Americans take at least one prescription drug. One in five take three or more. One in 10 take five or more. And other research shows four out of five adults use over-the-counter drugs and supplements as soon as they start feeling ill.

So how can you know if all those medicines work well together? When it comes to medicine, how can you see your “whole picture”?

Karin Josephson, PharmD, leads a medication therapy management program called RxCheckup at Westfields Hospital & Clinic in New Richmond, Wis. She answers those questions with these five tips:

  1. Ask your pharmacist or doctor before starting any over the counter medicines or supplements.

    This includes pain relievers, sleep aids and allergy medicines. It also includes herbal, vitamin and mineral supplements. This is especially important if you have a history of heart or kidney disease. Some over-the-counter medicines and supplements can react badly with your prescription drugs. This could be dangerous. Or it could make your medicine less effective than it should be. Taking too much of a vitamin or mineral supplement can also pose dangers. For example, some studies show increased rates of heart disease among people who have taken too many calcium supplements.

  2. Stick to seeing one primary doctor and using one primary pharmacy.

    This will help you avoid getting medicines that don’t play well together. Before prescribing you something, your doctor checks to make sure it won’t react badly with your other medicines. Your pharmacist then double checks when filling your prescription. But, if you have another doctor or pharmacist who’s not in close communication with the others, potential interactions might not get flagged. Bring along a list of everything you take whenever you see your primary doctor or a specialist. And make sure you update the list whenever you add or remove a drug or supplement.

  3. Establish a routine for taking your medicine.

    Stay organized with a system that works for you. A pillbox can be a great tool. And a weekly medicine chart that you can use as a checklist can be, too. Include each medicine you need to take, when you need to take it and how you need to take it.

    All of your medicines will have instructions on when to take them. Try to time each dose with your other routine daily activities. Really, the best time to take medicine is when you will remember to take it. Some medicines can cause problems if they’re taken too closely together. So a chart can help you space out when you take them. It can also help you avoid retaking a medicine you’ve already taken.

    Likewise, some medicines are best taken with food. Others work best on an empty stomach. And some need to be taken with a full glass of water – not just a sip. It is important to follow each medicine’s specific directions.

  4. Turn in medicines you don’t need any longer for proper disposal.

    When drugs are not disposed of properly, it increases the risk of accidental poisoning and drug abuse. Safely get rid of any unused medicine you have at a nearby drug take-back location:

    Several HealthPartners pharmacies in Minnesota also offer free medicine disposal.

  5. Meet with a pharmacist.

    HealthPartners offers a service called RxCheckup in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. This service is free to members and non-member patients. And it makes talking to a pharmacist easy. Our pharmacists work hand-in-hand with your doctor and care team. They look at all your prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and supplements to confirm what you’re taking is safe and effective. And they can confirm that the drugs you are taking have no negative side effects or interactions. This service can be especially beneficial if you take five or more medicines. And it can help a lot if you’re not making your health goals, such as blood pressure or A1c.

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