Do you have a pill list?

A few posts back, I reported on Dr. James Firman’s keynote at the Positive Aging conference in August.  Dr. Firman is the President and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). In his talk, gave us Seven Keys To A Brighter Future.  One of them concerned letting others know what we want – taking responsibility for our own well-being, including managing chronic conditions.

A friend of mine, age 89, had a stroke a while ago.  By sheer luck, she was found in time by a neighbor who then called 911. (My friend lived alone, and has no family).  The EMS took my friend to a trauma center in the next town.  When I could not get her by phone for several days, I went over to her apartment.  I could see her walker standing in the living room, so I figured she must be in the hospital, and I started calling hospitals in the area. I eventually found out where she was.

The reason I am telling this story is this:  My friend had no experience with that health care system – no medical records there.  They did not know anything about her – past diagnoses, medications, even who her physicians were or who was her health proxy.  She was incapable of telling them anything.   Nevertheless, they did major surgery to remove a clot from her brain.

I started thinking: What if that were me. . . I have a health proxy and stated preferences concerning how I want to be treated.  I have carried a list of my medications and supplements with me for some time, mostly so I don’t have to be bothered remembering the assorted names and doses.  Given my friend’s experience, I took another look at my ‘pill list’, and I expanded it with everything I could think of that might be important in an emergency.  Recently I saw a new doctor. Instead of going through a lengthy medical history, and possibly getting something wrong or missing something important, I handed her my expanded pill list.  She was rather astounded, and very appreciative.  I am confident that she got correct and complete information. I now encourage all my friends to put together such a list and carry it with them.  Some are reluctant – Oh, that’s a lot of work and it isn’t necessary.  I say, you never know when you might need it. You could be hit tomorrow by a low flying elephant on Route One!  My friend did not expect to have a stroke.

Here is what I think should be on that list:

  • Name, address, birth date
  • Diagnosis of any current conditions
  • Blood type
  • Vaccinations with dates
  • History of surgeries
  • Medications, also any medications you are allergic to
  • Supplements
  • Diet including any food allergies
  • Primary doctor with contact information
  • Specialist doctors you see regularly with contact information
  • Your health proxy with contact information

One friend of mine doesn’t go to doctors, and doesn’t take any medications.  She is 81.  It seems to me that it would be helpful for her to have a paper in her purse saying so.  If she ever does have a medical emergency, at least the EMS crew would know they have nothing to go on.  Even if one has no information to put on a ‘pill list’, simply having one  that says so would be responsible behavior, as Dr. Firman advocates. At any rate, it is taking control of our medical conditions to the extent that we are able. The more we can keep on top of our own medical information and condition, the better the level of care the health professionals can provide for us.

I am interested in hearing what you think.  Is there other information that should be on the ‘pill list’?


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