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Patients Leave Hospital Without Meds is the headline for a news article by Karen M. Cheung that I discovered when visiting Aging With Grace’s Patricia Grace on her Facebook page. I found it quite interesting and thought it was important news for all of us boomers and seniors caring for the elderly parents and relatives in our family. In the article, Ms. Cheung references a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which found that “after discharge from acute-care hospitals, patients are especially susceptible to prescription errors of omission, including the unintentional discontinuation of medications.”
Having helped with three surgeries for family members over the last couple of years, I can certainly believe it. Why is it happening? I can offer two reasons for those of us in the Sandwich Generation to be aware of, though I am sure there are probably more.
- It seems to be fairly routine for the hospital staff to wait until right before release to give out the prescriptions. At that point in time, the patient is exhausted, in pain, worried, and, in the case of elderly seniors, possibly a bit confused about all that is going on. On top of that, the caregiver may also be exhausted if they’ve spend considerable time helping their relative in the hospital. All they want to do is go home to their own bed but they have to stop and drop off the prescriptions, wait and get the prescriptions OR go home and go back to get the medications. Only that may require leaving the patient alone, which is not good either. A bit of a “Catch-22” frustration, I can assure you.
- On top of all that, if your family member is discharged on a Saturday or Sunday, you may find that not all the prescriptions are included. I reminded every staff person I could about one of the prescriptions we wanted, but when it came time to leave, that one was not included. It took a wonderful nurse, a supportive doctor on call (who was not our own doctor), and a lot of patience, but an hour later, we had the prescription in hand. However, later in the day, when my senior relative’s mouth got very dry, we realized we never thought to ask for another medication – Nystatin’s Swish and Swallow, so we had to wait until Monday to get that prescription from her own doctor. It’s a medicine that helps with the extreme dry mouth other medications can cause, and we did OK with lots of water and Hall’s Vitamin C drops. Ahhh, but what if it had been something more important? It would definitely have been difficult to make my senior relative head for an urgent care clinic when she was trying to rest from getting home from the hospital.
- Ask the hospital staff for the prescriptions a day ahead of time so you can drop them off while the patient is still in the hospital. Then you just have to pick them up on the way home – or better yet, have them delivered! Yes it’s true! They are few in number but there are some wonderful pharmacies that do deliver and it’s a tremendous blessing for all, especially those of us in the Sandwich Generation juggling a variety of issues and needs. Another great option is a drive through pharmacy. We have a couple of wonderful Walgreens that provide that helpful service.
- If the hospital policy doesn’t allow them to give out the prescriptions for your elderly relatives a day early, at least check the day before that all the prescriptions you need are on their list. This is especially vital if your loved one is going home on a weekend. Then double-check them to be sure they are all included. If not, see if an on-call doctor in the hospital can write the prescription for the medication needed. Make sure you do all this before your relative is discharged.
- When you do have to drop off the prescriptions for your senior citizens on the way home, you might want to just wait to get them so you don’t have to leave your loved one alone. Being a big believer in fun and yummy bribes, errr – rewards, for all ages, I took my sweet senior through Dairy Queen for a tasty lunch, complete with their wonderful Chocolate Extreme Blizzard ice cream desserts. Of course, you will need to be cautious about any dietary rules, but in our case, we had none. Thus, chocolate bliss for us both made the waiting much easier.
- Once home with all the medicines, realize your elderly relative will probably not remember what to take when and may not even think to mention they are in pain and need a pain pill until they are hurting a LOT. At that point, it will take quite a while for the medicine to kick in. Much better to set an alarm clock or use the alarms on your smart phone to help ensure they get the medications they need, when they need them. I also had to remind myself to write down the times I gave the medications. I was sure I’d remember that but, of course, I didn’t. So out came my little chart and I’m recording them well. Of course, you might prefer using a smartphone app or one of the many pill organizers to help. 🙂
While these won’t solve all the medication woes of the recently discharged seniors in the world, they will hopefully keep our own elderly parents and relatives on track, making for easier Sandwich Generation issues for all of us. Always a plus! How about you? Do you have more tips on dealing with medications when caring for the elderly parents who have just been in the hospital? We’d love to hear.