A middle-aged man with Asthma and hypertension was experiencing breathlessness and was rushed to the Emergency department.
He was given oxygen and nebulization. Then after he became calm, he informed us that; when he began to experience the asthmatic attack, he couldn’t identify his asthma medications from his anti-hypertensive drugs.
Another female patient in her 50s was admitted at the ED with hypoglycemia. She had both hypertension and diabetes but could not differentiate between her drugs. She complained that she didn’t know which of her medications was for the hypertension or the diabetes.
Why this is a Problem ?
1. There are several patients in Ghana who share the same plight as the two patients. Patients who suffer more than one chronic conditions like; Diabetes and hypertension, chronic kidney disease and hypertension, HIV and tuberculosis, etc are given more medications. These medications perform different functions and treat both medical conditions separately. But most of our patients are ignorant of the various medications and what they do. Because of this, patients tend to have emergencies due to their inability to differentiate one drug from the other in terms of their conditions.
Patients are therefore not able to control their medication intake when their levels are either high or low; example is when a diabetic has low Random blood sugar (RBS) level but takes her anti-be tic drugs anyway because she doesn’t know which of her medications is for diabetes.
2. More chronic disease patients experience a worsening of their conditions which results in an increase in hospital admissions, early re-admissions, prolonged hospital stay and increased healthcare cost. All these factors affect the Sustainable Development Goals and prevents Ghana from achieving her goal.
What can be done?
1. Colour coded medication dispenser: I believe as a country with a high illiteracy rate of 24% (CIA, world fact book), using colour coded medication dispensers to serve drugs in our pharmacies especially during discharge could really help control medication errors at home after patients are discharged.
2. Colour coded plastic bags:
Photo credit: 3JS Brand
Even though the use of plastic bags is not favourable to the environment, it’s use i’s not currently banned in Ghana. Most hospital pharmacies /dispensaries use plastic bags to package medications for patients.
With these colour coded bags , patients will be able to easily identify which drugs are for which particular condition. This can greatly reduce the rate at which medication errors occur at home.
3. Education, Education, Education! Our patients mostly walk out of our health facilities with just the dosage of their medications explained to them. If they are lucky* they are informed about when exactly to take their drugs whether before or after meals.
But much more needs to be done. Patients need to know and understand well the following;
a. The name of the drug
b. What it does and what condition it treats.
c. When to take the drug and why it should be taken at those times. This helps patients to appreciate more the need to adhere to the instructions if they know how important it is.
d. When to stop taking it. Example: A diabetic taking blood sugar control medications. The patient needs to understand that if the RBS is low, he/she needs not take the drugs.
e. Side effects of the drugs.
Lets help promote the health of Ghanaians and the world at large.
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