More Meds, More Docs, More Problems

Managing more than one prescription drug

Updated on: January 7, 2019

Originally posted on: September 15, 2014
Express Scripts Pharmacist Mr. Reyes specializes in medication management issues for seniors. Topics include best practices for managing multiple prescriptions.

How many medications do you take each day? The average senior takes 6 different medications. As you take more medications, you put yourself at risk for a harmful drug interaction.

What is Polypharmacy?

“Polypharmacy” means taking many different medications at the same time. Polypharmacy can become a problem when your medications counteract each other or interact in a harmful manner. For example, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat high blood pressure, but another drug you are taking could be driving up your blood pressure. Some supplements, over-the-counter drugs, and even certain foods can interact with your prescription medication.

When you see a lot of different doctors, your risk of a drug interaction increases. You may find that some of your doctors are not aware of all the medications you take. In fact, research finds that the more doctors a patient sees, the greater the risk for dangerous drug errors.

Pharmacists are trained to identify such interactions and discuss the potential danger with your doctors. However, if you use multiple pharmacies, the risk of dangerous interactions increases.

Managing Your Medications

There are several ways to stay healthy and safe if you are taking many medications:

  • Keep a list: List all your medications (both prescription and over-the-counter). Share this list with your doctors and let them know if anything changes. Encourage your doctors to share information with each other. If you’re seeing a specialist, ask him or her to send a full medical report to your primary care doctor. Signup for a monthly newsletter and receive a free Roadmap for Medicare eBook which includes an easy-to-use checklist.
  • Take an active role in your health: Don’t be afraid to ask questions when visiting your doctor. Make sure you completely understand your condition and the medication the doctor is prescribing. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects and harmful interactions. Some medications can interact with certain kinds of food, so knowing more about your medications and how to manage them can help you avoid issues.
  • Use one pharmacy: Many seniors use different pharmacies because they travel or spend the winter in warm weather areas. Using multiple pharmacies increases your risk of a pharmacist missing a potentially dangerous interaction. For long-term medications, use a home delivery pharmacy. It’s a safe and convenient way to fill your prescriptions wherever you are.
  • Go mobile: Some Medicare Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) provide mobile applications for your smartphone. These “apps” can help you easily track the medications and supplements you’re taking.

It’s common to take more medications as you age. Review your medications with your doctors on a regular basis. You may find that you can cut back on some of your medications.