Patients must keep tabs on their meds, ‘not be passive’

Pharmacy assistant Anna Labayen prepares medications for a patient at Sadiyeh’s Pharmacy in Mississauga. Pharmacy assistant Anna Labayen prepares medications for a patient at Sadiyeh’s Pharmacy in Mississauga.

Dominique Taylor
Life Editor

If one’s natural inclination is to take their medications and run, slowing down may prove to be a bit safer.

“We have to get away from the Tim Horton’s drive-through mentality with healthcare,” said Christine Herbert, professor in the pharmacy technician program at Humber College.

It takes time to make sure that a prescription is prepared right. It also takes time to check drug interactions, allergies and other conditions that a patient might have, she said.

“It’s more than standing around and counting pills, putting them in a bottle and putting a label on it,” said Herbert.

Six per cent of Canadians report they were given either a wrong medication or wrong dose after filling a prescription or while in hospital in the last two years, according to a Health Council of Canada report. This same statistic was recently repeated in a CBC Marketplace feature on pharmacy error in January.

“We need to change the mindset of the patients,” said Herbert. “You shouldn’t really be getting your prescription in less than five minutes. It’s not good and it means that there may have been shortcuts taken.”

There are a number of ways errors can happen, said Herbert, through the data entry process or a checking error of some kind. Commonly it’s a physician’s handwriting that’s the problem, she said.

Error is a “shared thing” and that’s why a collaborative effort is needed, said Herbert.

Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and doctors are all healthcare professionals and “patients should not be passive” when it comes to their medications, she said.

“If I see a drug name, I look it up before hand,” said Tara Dawdy, 23, first year Humber paramedic student. “So even if I have a general idea, then I know questions I can ask because I want to know what is going on in my body and what it will do.”

“We have to be a team,” said Sadiyeh Ibrahim, an independent pharmacist in Mississauga.

“Doctors are human and they make mistakes,” she said.  “But that’s why we are here, to make sure it’s the right dose and the right directions for the patient.”

A patient developing a relationship with their pharmacist and sticking with one pharmacy are good ways to protect oneself against medication error, said Herbert. Telling the pharmacist about medical conditions, allergies and other medications is important too, she said.

“Every day pharmacists and pharmacy technicians catch thousands of errors,” said Herbert. “They are on the phone with doctors, asking for clarification and making sure their patients are safe.