We finished our two week simulation last Wednesday. During those two weeks we attempted to simulate the diet, medicine regimen, and other lifestyle restrictions heart failure patients experience. Over the next few days we are going to highlight four patient struggles we identified during the needfinding experiment.
Day five of our simulation started off like any other, with a morning pill reminder lighting up my phone. As I waited for the medical name of each medication to scroll past so I could read the physical description and actually identify it, I remembered that we were supposed to be calling the medications by their technical names and should probably spend some time trying to learn them.
Moments before attempting a quick memorization of our medications chart, I realized that I personally have been a patient for many doctors throughout my life, yet I have never once sat down to memorize my medications. I have gone to general practitioners, dentists, dermatologists, and other specialists, and I cannot recall ever knowing the full name of any medication I have ever been on, let alone the dosage. I have gotten away with this ignorance largely because I have only been on one or two medications at a time and because no doctor has ever pressed me for more information (likely because they know it is a hopeless cause for most patients).
I would like to give myself the benefit of the doubt in saying that
if any of my medications were to resolve a life threatening condition, I would become more informed — but I honestly do not know if that is true. I always assume that any doctor, pharmacy, or healthcare provider has this information “somewhere in the system,” though in reality that is often not the case.
For heart failure patients, not knowing exactly which medicine, brand, dosage, and frequency of intake could result in life-threatening situations. There can be interactions between medications that cause one to negate another or cause the drugs to act unexpectedly, often harming the patient.
How can the healthcare industry expect a layperson to remember the names such as Spironolactone, Metoprolol succinate, or Lisinopril, especially when they are on over ten medications? Did you know that Coumadin, Jantoven, Marevin, and Uniwarfin are all different names to refer to the same medication, Warfarin? Clinicians speak in milligrams, people speak in pills and teaspoons. On the American Heart Association’s website, there are over 60 different drugs alone that are “commonly” prescribed for heart failure patients. It is easy to blame the patient for not taking ownership of their disease, but I believe the true culprit is the healthcare system for making it challenging for patients to track medications and effectively communicate drug regimens between healthcare providers.