As more and more conditions are being managed by medications, patients across the country are relying on their doctors and pharmacists more than ever before. In 2010, Americans spent over $300 billion on prescription drugs. And as more drugs are dispensed, the number of so-called “adverse events” increases.
In the past, I’ve blogged about pharmacy and pharmacist error. When an overworked or careless pharmacy employee puts the wrong medication in a patient’s bottle, it is usually very clear where to lay the blame. One problem that is a little more complex, however, is tracking prescription drug side effects and interactions. It is not uncommon for a patient to have multiple specialists, each treating a relatively narrow medical problem or condition. Unfortunately, these treaters may not have access to or know about the patient’s other problems and medications. If a patient uses more than one pharmacy to fill his or her prescriptions, dangerous drug interactions may escape detection. Opiates and other pain killers are the most common causes of emergency room visits and hospital stays due to side effects/interactions from properly dispensed prescriptions, but antibiotics, blood thinners, and insulin are also to blame. As the country’s population continues to age, the problem is likely to continue unless changes are made.
Some proposed alterations include increased training of health care providers about the pros and cons of prescribing opioids and increasing the ease of access to medical records. Of course, any potential change has its critics – doctors would prefer to avoid additional training, and easier access to records has inherent privacy concerns. Hopefully, some compromise can be reached that will reduce the number of adverse events from prescriptions aimed at helping patients.