Making Prescriptions Convenient for Senior Patients

If you think remembering to take your daily vitamin is hard now, just wait until you’re older.

According to Robbin St. John, a pharmacist and educator at St. Mary’s Hospital, “the average senior takes 10-20 medications per day.”

Like the rest of us, seniors can find remembering what to take and when to take it to be a challenging task. Fortunately, local hospitals and pharmacies take this issue seriously.

Last year, St. Mary’s implemented a program to educate seniors on their medications and how they work. “When they get a new medicine we tell them the name of the medicine, what it’s for and simply three side effects,” said St. John.

St. Mary’s has a teachback program for senior patients, which means that after these patients are told information about their prescribed drugs they repeat it back to their doctors to ensure there won’t be any misinformation. This program has made the hospital’s patient satisfaction scores double since 2014.

“When they arrive here and they come to the emergency room, we now have a team of nurse and pharmacy students who can get a list of the medications they’re on,” said St. John.  These students help implement a program called medication reconciliation, which is comprised of adding any new medications the seniors are prescribed and removing any medications the seniors are no longer taking.

They also hand out wallet cards, which include the medications and their dosages so seniors can have a personal list on hand. These procedures are in place to simplify and clarify the medication routines of their senior patients.

“When they’re not taking medications, that’s when you see problems,” said Jo Crenshaw, social services director at the University Nursing Center in Athens.

Luckily, pharmacies such as Athens Infusions and Hawthorne Drugs exist. Hawthorne Drugs, a local Athens pharmacy, packages drugs for their senior customers in small, foil-covered packs that are wrapped and organized by day so that those dispensing the medication can keep pills organized. They will also customize these pill packages, so if a customer wants the three pills they are supposed to take after dinner packaged together, they have no issue accommodating that need.

Athens Infusions also strives to help their customers through unique packaging that reminds customers whether or not they took their medications.

“If you have memory issues, you may not remember if you took your morning meds,” said Leigh Howell, a pharmacist at Infusions.

Infusions packages medications for their patients in color coded boxes with single doses which help them know if they’ve taken their daily medications or not. The yellow packages are for morning medications and blue are for medications taken after five “It’s like a giant pillbox with better labeling,” said Howell.

They estimate that 60 percent of their customers are seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Howell said that Athens Infusions delivers medications to 40-50 nursing homes across the county and to some individual homes where seniors live with personal caretakers.

She agreed with St. John and said that some seniors take up to 25 medications per day. One reason for the high number of medications is the fact that a certain medication may have side effects that causes them to take multiple additional pills to combat the effects, “They may be on three anti-psychotics and take several medicines to combat the side effects,” said Howell.

“Most of our patients are on a multivitamin and an aspirin a day, ” said Howell while also remarking that high blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common issues among seniors Infusions fills prescriptions for.

By Liz Best

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