MedLists critical to quality care

From gummy vitamins to over-the-counter drugs to herbal remedies, Albertans should let health-care providers know about all the medications they take for the safest possible medical treatment.

From gummy vitamins to over-the-counter drugs to herbal remedies, Albertans should let health-care providers know about all the medications they take for the safest possible medical treatment.

In a new campaign, Alberta Health Services and the Health Quality Council of Alberta are asking people: What’s on your MedList?

Doctors, pharmacists and nurses want to know about pain killers, cold medicines, laxatives, vitamins, minerals, homeopathics, natural and herbal products, recreational drugs, patches, inhalers, eye/ear/nose drops, creams, lotions, ointments, and even samples doctors give out.

“There’s a lot of complex interactions between medications so it’s really important that members of the health-care team are key partners in providing advice to the patient,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, vice-president quality and chief medical officer with AHS about the Medication Reconciliation strategy that began in 2013 and runs until 2015.

According to AHS, a 2008 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that more than one in nine emergency department visits were due to drug-related adverse events which would include interactions.

Yiu said having patients play an active role in their health care by keeping an up-to-date MedList is also important to deal with the ongoing medication problems.

It’s helpful for patients to bring in pill bottles to show health-care providers exactly what compounds they contain, she said.

The campaign even suggests that “special” herbal tea may affect treatment.

“I think at the end of the day it’s better to be all inclusive and err on the side of maybe saying things that may not necessarily be important from the provider’s perspective. I think if there’s any question at all, the patient should mention it.”

Yiu said vitamins, herbal supplements and products at health food stores are most often the products that people forget are medications.

As part of the campaign, a medication list and medication schedule are available at for people to fill in to keep track of their medications and doses, as well as helpful questions they can ask their doctor.

Naturopathic doctor Shane Johnson said he has always had patients provide an extensive list of their medications at their first appointment.

“Because patients can buy things on their own off the Internet, I find a lot of people come in who are already taking things that are interacting that they don’t know about. That’s one of the main reasons we put together that list,” said Johnson, of Red Deer.

He said because so many people are on anti-depressants, a common problem to watch out for is adding an herbal combination to support moods that work the same way as anti-depressants, which leads to an excess amount of hormones being made and trouble.

“More and more patients are ordering products online out of the U.S. that are not even allowed in Canada so that is opening the door to a lot of problems with their current meds as well.”

Johnson said he hopes the MedList campaign will encourage more people to keep their family doctor informed. A lot of patients don’t tell their family doctors what they are doing naturally, thinking the doctor isn’t going to approve. Unfortunately, without the necessary training, many family doctors don’t know how natural products work or possible interactions.

“I find that’s a frustration of patients. They may tell a family doctor I’m on these three things. (Doctors) have no idea what those are.

“Naturopathic doctors and pharmacists are where patients seem to go for their resource on what they can do naturally with their current prescriptions,” Johnson said.

Sylvan Lake pharmacist Todd Prochnau said pharmacists are very accessible to talk about possible product interactions.

“You can usually go into a pharmacy and talk to a pharmacist fairly quickly so you can ask them those questions. It doesn’t mean you’re skipping seeing the physician because the pharmacist can help you decide if it is something that requires a visit to the physician,” Prochnau said.

For example, allergy season is here and there is a variety of over-the-counter allergy drugs.

“It’s good for people to even ask sometimes before they take something like that. Some of the anti-allergy drugs out there contain medications that have to be used cautiously in people who have high blood pressure. A lot of people have high blood pressure.”

Prochnau said more people are taking a greater interest in their health and are using natural products.

“It’s not that those things can’t be used. But sometimes, just because they’re deemed a natural product, doesn’t mean they’re safe for you to take or that they don’t affect the other drugs you take if you do take prescription drugs so it’s just always good to ask.”

Information is available on the Internet, but not all of it can be trusted, he said.

He said even though doctors and pharmacists can access a patient’s prescription drug history through Alberta Net Care, it’s better to have one physician and one pharmacist if possible so those health care providers can develop a full patient history.

“You also develop a relationship with the physician and with the pharmacist which is great because it’s going to make you feel more comfortable asking personal questions. Often health can be quite personal.”

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