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Take a picture of that vial…and other advice for “active patients”

November 1, 2012 in Medical Care

“I think the consumer needs to be vigilant. Much as they were with medication errors and prescription mis-fills, they now are more aware that they should understand the drug and how it’s used and who dispensed it and who made it.”

When we heard Bill Gouveia say this during an interview about the meningitis outbreak, we stopped and stared at the radio. How are we, patients, supposed to be vigilant about the source of drugs doctors inject into us, sometimes when we’re out cold?

So we called Gouveia, a former member of the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy who currently teaches at the Northeastern University School of Pharmacy.

Just what did he mean by “consumers need to be vigilant”?

“This comes from the medication safety movement,” says Gouveia. Specifically, he recommends:

1) when a physician says he’s going to inject you with something, ask to see the vial before it is opened
2) copy the information on the label or take a picture of it with your phone
3) if the packaging is different than what you’ve seen before, if the supplier has changed, ask why
4) make sure you know what the drug is and what it is for
5) if the name of the drug has changed, confirm with your doctor that the new drug is a generic or brand name equivalent and if not, make sure you understand any differences

“This way,” says Gouveia, “if you have a chronic disease that requires injections, say, once a month, and you have a bad month, you’ll be able to say, hmm, was that the drug or the way it was injected or something that happened later?”

The bottom line for Gouveia is…”the active patient is the best patient.”

OK, we hear this more and more lately. But some doctors get a little testy when patients ask a lot of questions.

“Yep,” says Gouveia, “that’s the idea. We trust physicians and they generally have the patients best interests in mind, but this whole area is interesting. You’re not questioning the physician’s judgement, you’re questioning the system to make sure that it serves you.”

Is anyone already doing what Gouveia recommends?

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