Snowbirds at Risk of Medication Errors

Tips for travelers when seeing seasonal doctors and pharmacists

Posted: Saturday, November 01, 2003
As the cooler weather sets in, millions of "snowbirds" ? seniors and baby boomers who move to warmer regions during the cold winter months ? are packing up to head off to warmer climates. However, snowbirds could face the potential for medication errors from transferring care to their "seasonal" clinicians ? the doctors and pharmacists that will assume their care during the winter ? without considering some simple tips for traveling with their medications.

"It's challenging enough for one physician and one pharmacy to manage the complex medication regimen of the average senior," says Dr. Glen Stettin, vice president of clinical products, Medco Health Solutions, Inc. "However, because these seasonal travelers are transferring care to doctors and pharmacists who may not have access to their current prescription and medical records, it's important that they take special steps to ensure that any clinician they see is updated."

In a report released in conjunction with its 2003 Drug Trend Report, Medco Health, the nation's leading pharmacy benefit manager, found that one in four seniors sees four or more physicians, and one in three seniors used four or more different pharmacies to fill prescriptions last year.

The web of various physicians and pharmacists - similar to that which many seasonal travelers may face in the coming months - may be a contributor to the 7.9 million medication alerts identified among the prescriptions submitted by seniors in 2002.

Dr. Stettin offers the following simple tips to help seasonal travelers prevent potential medication errors:

Make and Take a Medication List ? Keep an updated list of all medications with you at all times, including prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and any vitamins and supplements. Include the medication, the strength and the condition you are taking it for.

Have Your Meds Mailed to You ? Three-month supplies of medications for chronic conditions can be filled through a home delivery pharmacy and sent directly to your winter home, eliminating the need to switch pharmacies and preventing the loss of important prescription information between different pharmacies.

Ask for Refills or Renewals Before You Leave ? See your doctor for a check-up before you leave for the season and ask that your prescriptions be updated with renewals if necessary. This is especially important if you will be moving around a lot, making it difficult to get the prescriptions to you in a timely fashion. If you use a retail pharmacy, refill your prescriptions before you leave to make sure you have a full supply.

Have Contact Numbers Handy ? Always carry a list of phone numbers for all of your doctors and your home pharmacy, in case an emergency arises and they need to be contacted.

Dr. Stettin also advises seasonal travelers to consider the following tips when packing their medications or while on the road:

Use Original Containers ? Carry your medications in original containers with original labels to prevent anyone from mistaking them for other substances. Also, keep a copy of the prescriptions with you for emergency refills.

Keep Your Medications Close ? When flying, always carry your medications with you instead of packing them in a suitcase that will be checked and stored on the plane where you will not have access to them.

Avoid Extreme Temperatures ? In automobiles, do not store medications in the trunk or glove compartment where temperatures may become very hot or very cold. Also, do not place medications on the dashboard or back window, where they may be exposed to direct sunlight and excessive temperatures.

Think Kid-Safe - If you are visiting a place where children will be present, keep all medications out of their reach or in a locked suitcase. Store your medications in labeled, child-resistant containers. Do not underestimate a child's ability to climb, open drawers and cabinets, or to mistake medications for candy. Make sure a child's parent or guardian is aware of where the medications are being stored.

Take extra medication - Take along more medication than you expect to need for your entire trip. If anything happens to your medication or if you end up staying longer than planned, you can avoid wasting time trying to obtain a refill from doctors.

Medco Health Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MHS) is the nation's leading pharmacy benefit manager. Medco Health assists its clients to moderate the cost and enhance the quality of prescription drug benefits provided to more than 60 million Americans nationwide. Its clients include private and public sector employers and healthcare organizations, including 190 of the Fortune 500 companies. For more information about Medco Health, visit

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