Avoiding Hospital Readmission: Polypharmacy


Polypharmacy refers to the effects of taking multiple medications for coexisting health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension.  Often this is a necessary part of healthcare as you age, but nearly 50% of older adults take medications that are not medically necessary.  This creates unnecessary healthcare costs as well as preventable hospitalization from dangerous medication interactions.  It is always important to stay on top of your medications, but it can be particularly confusing when you have just been discharged from the hospital.  So what can you do to make sure you’re only taking the medications you need?

  • Use a pill box.  Keeping your medications organized is important for preventing overdoses or missed medications.  Particularly if your loved one has dementia, it is essential to have a pill box set up so they can clearly see whether or not they have taken the day’s medication.  A family member can help out with this, or your home care provider can send out a nurse to help with med management.
  • Keep your prescriptions up to date.  Often seniors, particularly if they have dementia, continue to take old meds that they are no longer prescribed.  It is very important not to keep old prescriptions around the house.  Many pharmacies will take old prescriptions back and dispose of them safely.  If your pharmacy does not accept old medications, you can throw them away or flush them.  Patient uses more than one pharmacy so doctors and pharmacists are not aware that conflicting or redundant medications are being prescribed.
  • Always use the same pharmacy.  When you’ve just been discharged from the hospital, you’ll have a long list of medications from your specialists in addition to any you might have been taking before you went in.  The simplest way to avoid complications is to make sure you are using a single pharmacy for all your prescriptions.  The pharmacist is able to see all the medications prescribed by all your doctors, and will notice interactions that might otherwise be found until they’ve already caused problems.  If you spread out your prescriptions across a couple of different pharmacies, the pharmacist will not be able to check your med list for interactions.
  • Talk to your primary care doctor about your medications.  Good communication between your doctors is the best way to prevent polypharmacy problems.  You should have a followup appointment with your primary care doctor in the first two weeks after you leave the hospital.  Your primary care doctor knows your medical history better than any of your specialists and can help reconcile your prescriptions so there are no conflicts or redundant medications.  Bring the prescriptions you were given at the hospital and a list of any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or herbal supplements you have been taking.