Monday, June 11, 2018

Educate before you medicate


By Dr Piamaria Ngole

So I receive calls from my friends just about every weekend, “asking for a friend” whether it is safe to take this or that medication with alcohol or how long after taking meds should they wait before they can drink.

Even as they ask, I know they are just looking to confirm what they already know and so to make it bearable I respond with a “It’s just one life with too many weekends” and hope their “friend” will find comfort in my words when they go for softer drinks later that evening.

I learned this art of being gentle with the vulnerable through my sister who used to come home with very expensive cosmetic products that were not always a match for her skin.

She has a great complexion in my opinion but wants a flawless one -whatever that is. I would get mad when she called me with an acne break out after using some product because I believed she did not need it in the first place.

We fell out too many times before I learned that being flawless was important for her and the least I could be was informative before she repeated the same mistakes over and over again.

After we took a skin type test, and learned what might be good for her skin, let’s just say I am being convinced that “flawless” might actually be an attainable skin goal.

Speaking of attainable goals, my mother has been diagnosed with hypertension since I was 11 and for a very long time she has struggled to keep her blood pressure within safe limits.

I am not sure how she did not know this for so long, but simply adhering to her treatment regimen has helped a lot to improve her life. I say ‘simply’ like it is a simple thing to do but I am aware that adherence to a medication routine for a long time can be daunting and this is why it is very important to remind patients on long term therapies about the importance of adherence even when they don’t feel the need.

Sometimes I overhear her pass this information to a hypertensive friend or relative, emphasizing on the importance of frequent checkups and sticking to meds, sometimes using my exact words and a warm ray of happiness radiates from the part of my chest where a soul is presumed to reside and curves a smile on my face from ear to ear.

The only other time my face makes this kind of a smile, is when my 5-year-old niece sips tap water to taste for bacteria and pours it out then goes on to take boiled water which she sips, looks at me, does a thumb up and drinks on.

She tells her friends that she can taste the bacteria in tap water and cold foods and looks at me to back that up. I know how hard it had been to keep her off tap water so I feign disbelief at how her friends cannot taste something so “choleraful” as tap water and just like that, they too begin to taste that slimy Vibro cholerae in tap water.

Through these incidences and many more, my eyes have been opened to two things. One the extent to which our society is deprived of health information and two, how those who are informed -falsely or otherwise- can create a massive ripple effect in disseminating this information.

As a pharmacist, sometimes at work and more often long after I have left the counter, I cannot help but notice the information gap. The urge to fill that gap comes as natural to me as maternal instincts.

I know how important this is because I have seen how far my simple health advices or comments have helped those close to me and I have witnessed just how far they too can influence their circles.

Sometimes I wonder what if I was not there to help them unlearn certain health fallacies or provide them with some vital information they might have missed out and I shudder at the thoughts of just how this could have affected them.

Internet use is increasing inexorably but this cannot replace face time with an expert and a discussion about your medication or medication regimen.

Those few extra minutes spent going through a treatment plan can go a long way in promoting adherence, eliminating chances of overdose and fighting the so rampant catastrophe of drug resistance. It should also reduce the need and means to self-medicate in the future.

The aim of educate before you medicate is to make sure that a patient understands the goal of treatment and has all the necessary information around how this goal is to be attained. After all, what’s health care if it is not patient centered?