Managing medications: how to build a medication list

A pharmacist explaining a prescription to an associate.

Keeping an up-to-date medications list could be a lifesaver in the event of an emergency.

If your daily ritual includes taking medication, keeping an up-to-date list of medications could be a lifesaver during an emergency. “Having a medicine list can act as a safety net,” says Bree Watzak, Pharm.D., BCPS, assistant professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy’s College Station campus. “A lot of medication errors that occur at the hospital are because we don’t have access to an updated list of what our patients are already taking when they arrive,” says Watzak, who works with St. Joseph’s Hospital’s trauma team and has formal training in emergency preparedness and patient-drug education.

So how do you build this list?

There are many websites and apps that contain free medication forms. Utilizing these tools, such as My Medications, MedTraker or CareZone Meds, can help you manage your medications and provide you with a format so you know what to include. “The apps can even set reminders for when you need to take your next dose, or if you have a doctor’s appointment coming up,” says Watzak.

Here are some suggestions for creating and maintaining a medication list:

What to include

A typical medication form asks you to include:

  • Allergies and reactions
  • Doctors, dentists and other prescribers’ names and numbers
  • Pharmacy name and phone number
  • Medication name (brand and generic)
  • Dosage
  • Doctor’s instructions for use*
  • Reason for taking the medication
  • Date started
  • Date stopped
  • Doctor who prescribed the medicine

*If the instructions on the label differ from your doctor’s instructions, be sure to list your usage as the doctor prescribed.

Remember to include any vitamins, herbal supplements, investigational drugs, sample medications from a doctor or borrowed medications you use, along with your prescribed medications. These could cause an interaction or negative side effects of which your physician needs to be aware of.

In order to provide the best possible care, it is important that your care providers know everything you are currently taking or have already tried.

How often to update

For the most current information, Watzak recommends updating your list every time you visit a doctor or go to the pharmacy. This strategy will also ensure all of your caretakers have the most recent copy of your list, so they can check for any relevant information that could affect their treatment plan.

Where to keep the list

Since emergencies can strike at any time, it is crucial to keep a copy of your medication list with you. Carry a copy of your medicine form in your purse or wallet to be sure you have it at all times. Another, more space-conscious, option is to use an app on your phone. Paramedics usually check your phone for an emergency contact and will see the app.

In general, Watzak suggests keeping a copy of your list in a central location in your house, such as attached to the refrigerator. This will allow everyone within your household to have access to it, and it will be easy for emergency responders to locate.

Who should have access

While keeping a list of medications with you is extremely important, sometimes it’s not enough. You may find yourself in a predicament where you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate with your attending physician. Should such a situation arise, it is important to have your current list available to all your physicians, friends and family. Watzak recommends that you have an “in case of emergency” (ICE) contact, and that he or she has your medication list, because that will be the first person the hospital contacts.

With families and friends becoming dispersed across the nation, Watzak also suggests leaving a list with a neighbor, or a nearby person who can check in on you regularly and notice any potential issues. Your medication list should be available to people you trust in emergency situations.

Above all, Watzak encourages keeping up with your medications. Share your list with your physician and the hospital. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact your primary caregiver.

For a downloadable copy of a medication list, please visit the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

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