This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Martin Duggan in 2021
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Medication management (also known as medicine management) must be done right. With 350,000 people hospitalized per year because of adverse drug events (via CDC), it’s essential to understand your loved one’s medication management program.
In particular, a medication plan is all about finding the balance, so that symptoms are resolved without any dangerous side effects or interactions. Let’s define medication management, so you can get a sense of what it is and the best practices surrounding it.
What does medication management involve?
Medication management is the planning and monitoring of medications to increase outcomes and decrease side effects. It’s a delicate science that works to ensure the safety of the patient during treatment.
Overall, your family doctor will create a medication plan in a few different ways, including:
- Reviewing prescriptions, interactions and side effects
- Monitoring safety and efficacy of prescriptions
- Educating patients on complying with the medication plan
- Improving patient quality of life
- Minimizing medication error
It’s important to communicate constantly with your loved one and the doctor to achieve the right outcomes. Often seniors are wary about expressing their discomfort. Given the individual nature of medication, it’s essential to work together to strike the right balance.
What are the benefits of medication management?
The goal is first and foremost medical: to improve patient outcomes. This means reduced symptoms and pain. At the same time, the benefits of an effective medication plan also include:
- Better rest and energy levels
- Prevention of emergency and hospital stays
- Reduced caregiver stress
- Overall higher comfort levels
When done right, a medication plan gives caregivers the peace of mind that their loved one is safe and comfortable.
What factors can complicate medication management?
The older the patient, the more challenging medication can be. That’s because seniors face certain risk factors that others don’t.
In fact, it’s especially vital to maintain the safety and well-being of seniors. These risk factors may include:
- Taking multiple medications, vitamins and supplements for different health conditions
- Lack of medication monitoring
- Confusion about medications
- Having multiple or contradicting doctors
- Deliberately not filling prescriptions or skipping treatments for financial reasons
- Dementia, other memory problems or mental health issues
If any of the above factors apply to you or a loved one, you should talk to your doctor in order to ensure that the medication plan is the right fit.
What are some common medication errors for seniors?
Seniors are especially prone to committing medication errors as well. Sometimes this is no fault of their own, as the medication plan isn’t working for them.
However, seniors often make certain errors with their medications. These can be extremely dangerous or fatal, depending on the patient’s medical history. The most common errors may entail:
- Taking too much of a medication
- Confusing medications
- Taking medication incorrectly (with food or on an empty stomach)
- Never filling a prescription
Because of the frequency of these errors, consistent medication monitoring is ideal.
What if my loved one lives in a care facility?
If your loved one lives in a care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted living housing, you should be in close contact with the health aides. Whoever is helping administer medication on a daily basis may have vital information to share, or may not have the right medication instructions.
It’s also important to communicate constantly with the care facility and your loved one. Some types of elder abuse involve administering the incorrect medication or dosage. Make sure you understand how your loved one is being cared for and raise any red flags with the facility management.
How much does medication management cost?
Your family doctor will manage medication as part of regular medical duties. So, if the doctor’s appointment is covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, a medication plan should also be included. Of course, the price of certain medications will vary depending on your health insurance plan.
What are the best practices for managing medication?
Managing medication may be complex, depending on the situation. At the same time, you can help guide your loved one by taking into account some best practices. Overall, a medication plan is best administered and monitored by following these simple guidelines:
Take as few medications as possible.
This guideline will depend on the medical history of your loved one. However, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor what medications are strictly necessary. Adding new medicines can create new interactions and side effects. Trying to remove medications, as medically appropriate and doctor-approved, is a good best practice within a medication plan.
Avoid prescription cascade by getting to the heart of the matter.
Prescription cascade is what happens when poor medication management leads to the prescription of more medications and perhaps more side effects (hence “cascade”). This often happens when the side effects of a medication are misdiagnosed and mistakenly understood as symptoms of another condition. It’s essential to get to the heart of the matter. In other words, discover what is the underlying medical condition and potential side effects of medications to avoid misdiagnosis and potential additional interactions.
Make sure the prescriptions are age-appropriate.
Not all medications are fit for all ages. There are some medications that should be avoided for seniors. In particular, the American Geriatrics Society has created a list of medications called Beers with those inappropriate for seniors. The list is specifically aimed to avoid drug interactions and harmful side effects, such as reduced kidney function.
Educate your loved one about the dangers of self-prescribing.
Another problem seniors have is self-prescribing. It’s key that you talk with your loved one about the dangers of self-prescribing and keep communication channels open so that you’re aware of changes in medications. It’s common for older people to take more or less medication than they’re supposed to because they want quick relief or dread a certain side effect.
Keep doctors and pharmacists consistent.
Managing medication is already a challenge, but even more so when doctors and pharmacists aren’t consistent. As much as possible, try to keep the same doctors so that the medication plan and monitoring don’t change day by day. Doing so will also help loved ones feel more comfortable in communicating their needs.
Set up medication reminders and tools.
Medications can sometimes be hard to remember. Help your loved one by providing a reminder system (perhaps via an app or watch alarm), as well as some way to organize pills (such as a pill case). Staying organized can help your loved one understand what medications to take and reduce confusion. A reminder sheet with times and requirements for each medication isn’t a bad idea either.
Communicate constantly with your loved one about medication.
Finally, communication is extremely important to prevent issues and maintain safety. Creating a safe space to talk with your loved one is essential for knowing how he/she feels and what’s not working. Oftentimes, medication management requires some trial and error, and communication is the main way to get it right.
Patients failing to take their medications properly account for $290 billion in medical costs each year (via PharmaTimes). Medication management should be top-of-mind when you attend doctor appointments. Check with your loved one about any issues and remember to follow these best practices to reduce the risks of a poor medication plan.