When bloopers aren’t that funny…

This is a follow on piece from the ‘Bloopers’ topic of the other night. One of the bloopers turned sour in a big way, so I thought I should complete the picture. I guess it shouldn’t be a shock that bloopers in healthcare aren’t too funny, mostly. Some are interesting, some awful, and a few hilarious; that’s about how it works out, it seems.

You know that guy I was telling you about, the one with shoulder bursitis? The one whose wife and daughter gave him too much ibuprofen and paracetamol unintentionally, dosing him every 4 hours on the hour for several days due to his excruciating pain without observing the 24 hour maximum doses because they weren’t told about it by their doctor? And obviously they weren’t told about the maximum doses by pharmacy staff either if they bought the medication in a pharmacy, or maybe they bought it from the supermarket; this is my strong argument that these “simple” pain killers not be available from the supermarket. I guess the family never read the packet either, although English as a second language was a factor here for the wife, but not the daughter. This is the patient who was brought into ED after he started coughing up blood as a side effect of ibuprofen which irritates the stomach lining. You’ll remember that the family who wouldn’t give him the stronger pain killer Endone in case he got constipated, but had given him toxic doses of weaker pain killers. The patient who is an example of people being given incomplete advice about how to take their medications, and blindly following that advice without taking any initiative themselves.

Well, he died.

I saw him Saturday, he died early Monday morning. I was shocked when I found out!! I knew what they’d done was bad, and that he was going to suffer the consequences, but I never expected him to die! Not that fast, certainly. I planned on looking up which ward he was in in Monday morning so that I could handover the story to the ward pharmacist, but then it said: DECEASED. I had to read it twice. I thought I’d picked the wrong patient. But no, deceased, 0600 hours, 16-4-2018.

Wow!

So I looked into it. And right there as the cause of death: acute on chronic renal failure precipitated by NSAID use. That’s non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: ibuprofen (Nurofen), diclofenac (Voltaren) etc. Acute on chronic means he had a degree of chronic permanent kidney failure that couldn’t be reversed, not unexpected at 77 yo, but it was made acutely much worse by something, in this case medication.

There are a few things you can do to help reverse acute kidney failure: give IV fluids to flush toxins out, stop all medications that are toxic to the kidneys, manage blood pressure with medication and fluid so that the kidneys have optimal perfusion, but at the end of the day there’s only so much that can be done without the patient going to the intensive care unit and being put on dialysis. Once the kidneys go off, fluid accumulates in the body. This patient already had heart failure which causes fluid to gather around the heart and lungs, and the kidneys failing to clear fluid adds additional pressure on the heart. This was listed as the secondary cause of death: heart failure. In fact 4 causes of death were described in more detail than the overall cause as I’ve put it above, acute on chronic kidney failure precipitated by NSAIDs: kidney failure, heart failure, NSAIDS and age. Once the snowball got kicked off it gathered momentum from pretty much every other medical condition that the patient already had, unsurprising since the whole body is in a delicate balance. But if that trigger hadn’t been there…

In this case because of his age and many other medical conditions, the family did the sensible thing and let things be as they would be; and in this case death is what would be. It’s a shame that kind of common sense thinking hadn’t prevailed any earlier in the case. I feel like this death could be listed as preventable.

If a patient asks me generally whether ibuprofen is good for them, there are several medical conditions I’d want to be sure the patient didn’t have before recommending it: asthma, stomach problems like previous ulcers or gastritis and even reflux, heart failure and kidney failure. So the ibuprofen probably shouldn’t have been started in the first place; a steroidal anti-inflammatory like prednisolone would have been more appropriate. Although sometimes we say cautiously, take it but for no more than x days. Of course we then also tell the patient the maximum dose and how best to take it. In this case I’m pretty sure if you had asked the patient’s cardiologist or nephrologist before hand whether this man should have been given a NSAID they would NEVER have signed off on it.

Then maybe he’d still be here, a bit fuzzy headed or nauseous on Endone, taking paracetamol less regularly than actually happened, and blood sugars high from prednisolone, but alive, his bursitis improving and his life going on at home.

RIP.

I’m sorry the system let you down.

PSA

Here is my public service announcement (PSA).

Not to be confused with prostate-specific antigen, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and I’m sure many other words starting with those letters positioned in that order.

Do you take any medication? Any medications?? Even one medication?

“No, only vitamins, no medications”. “Which vitamins?” “Umm…”

“Just a blood pressure tablet…oh I don’t know what it’s called, its the pink one”

“The doctor started me on an antibiotic this week, no I don’t know what it is”

Here goes, my entire public service announcement: KNOW YOUR OWN MEDICATIONS.

Every day, somewhere between 4 to 18 times depending on shift length and how busy the department is, I walk into an ED cubicle and ask a patient, do you take any medications? And I get some frustrating answers: frustrating in that the patient or their carer hasn’t taken ownership for their own or the patient’s healthcare, frustrating in that I have to put in a lot of time and effort that the patient didn’t think was worthwhile, and isn’t necessary, and I forget why else; I’m sure there was something.

 

I’m not whinging about having to do my job. The whole point of a pharmacist is to elicit the best possible medication history from or for a patient, and I have to dig a lot to get the optimal history. It’s the reason I go to work and the challenge of it creates a real sense of satisfaction once I’m certain of a patient’s medications. But I do think that patient’s have to be engaged and do their part. Obviously I cheerfully exempt unconscious patients, those who are demented/delirious, institutionalised patients and anyone else not in charge of their own medications. But the rest of you? Own your health, for your own sake if nothing else.

You don’t have to be a doctor, a healthcare professional or know anything really about medicine to excel at managing your own medications. You just have to put in  a little time and effort, and get to know the following: the medication generic name (the one in small print), or the brand name (I can work with that), and the strength of the medication. That’s it. I’m not even asking you to memorise it. In fact I don’t want you to rely on your memory. When you’re in the ED, there are so many things going on that with you that your medication name and strength are going to get prioritised right out of your memory recall centre, and be useless to both me and you! So write it down, photograph it, tattoo it on your skin if you must! Okay, the last one is a joke, people!

After that, I need to know a couple of things about each medication: how many times a day you take it, what time of day you take it, and anything else pertinent to the medication specifically. If its written down, all you have to do is hand me the list and that’s all I need; if its on your phone just hand me the phone. So if you don’t want me bugging you, and asking you questions, be organised! I will reward you.

And as an added bonus, if your medications are written out neatly and the list shows you know your doses, your medication chart will be written up quicker, more accurately and your medication chart will be safer. I think that’s worth some effort.

For instance, one patient today brought all of their own medications in a box with a handwritten list saying what time of day each was taken. I was able to record all the information I need: generic medication name, strength (from the medications themselves), and the amount she took and what time of day she took it (from the handwritten list) while the patient was sleeping. When she woke up, I just quickly ran through the list with her to confirm it was up to date, and that was that! Easy, fast, and done, just like that! Her medication chart checked for accuracy and the patient was safe to go to the ward, medication-wise.

A lot of patient’s are very good at bringing in their own medications. In fact Epworth patients are exceptional at bringing in their own medications. This is mostly because they know from their last admission or from savvy ambulance drivers that if they don’t bring their own we’ll dispense what they need, but they’ll pay the same cost as if they were getting the medication dispensed at their usual pharmacy. Most figure they’ll just use what they already have. But having all the medications together in one place at the start makes taking a medication history a lot easier and more accurate, so there’s a hot tip for you.

 

Let’s try this again: do you take any medications? Yes? So what are they? Acceptable answers include:

  1. Here is a photo on my phone of all my current medications including vitamins showing the medication name and strength of the tablet/capsule clearly
  2. Here is my medication list that I keep in my wallet/handbag/toiletry bag that I bring to hospital with the name and strength of each medication and what time of day I take them
  3. Here are all of my medications in some sort of bag
  4. Here is the name of the pharmacy where I get all/most of my medications dispensed regularly

Personally? I carry a list in a plastic slip case that I got the the National Prescribing Service (NPS): it has sections for medication name, strength, amount, time of day, diseases, allergies all neatly in a double-sided fold up sheet that fits into a plastic cover; I think you can get them from NPS online.

So even if it’s one, or two, or “just” vitamins/non-prescribed medications, take the time to record them some way, some how. This isn’t just for hospital, but of course this is from my perspective working in a hospital. But I’m sure your GP, your specialists, and maybe others will make good use of your medication recording. So get going, and do me proud! I’d love to see your efforts, so send me your best!