#storiesthatmatter: Shedding light on medication safety

Editor’s note: In a Linkedin post, MATTER member Varun Goyal recently shared the personal story that helped him to realize the need for better patient education around medication safety — and that led him to found illuminate.health. We’re sharing it here as part of our new project, Stories That Matter.

“Six years ago, while trying to start our family, my wife was dealing with a minor but annoying case of bacterial infection. Thankfully, she was proactive about her care and saw a doctor, who prescribed an antibiotic. By chance, I spoke to a physician friend before picking up the prescription, who told us the medication was alright unless we were pregnant or were trying to get pregnant — which we were. As it happened, five days later we found out we were pregnant with our first child.

Why didn’t the prescribing clinician ask us about the pregnancy implications if it is standard protocol and so important?

More recently my wife, who has a history of ear problems and is prone to tinnitus (ringing in ears), was prescribed a medication where tinnitus is a common side effect. I shared this rather minor health event with friends and family, only to learn how common and frequent these types of healthcare mishaps are.

These issues can arise for many reasons, not simply because the prescribing physician or dispensing pharmacist is not doing their best to prescribe the most clinically appropriate drug. Most clinics — despite adopting electronic health record software — lack relevant records from other doctors you’ve seen or prescriptions you are currently taking. Likewise, your local pharmacy may not catch a drug interaction because you pick up medications from other pharmacies also.

As I talked to more and more people and researched the topic, I had a scary thought. If someone like me, an educated professional working in the healthcare industry is unaware of the frequency and danger of medication interactions and errors, what are the risks to the average person?

I experienced frustration because of my experience while starting a family or due to my wife’s tinnitus, but what about more serious and risky interactions? What about interactions that are asymptomatic, but can result in hospitalizations and severe complications over time? Adding to the complexity is that we all live in the real world, with real schedules, real bills to pay and real urgent issues that make it unrealistic for us all to become experts in medication safety.

It became clear to me that not only was there a need to help people safely take medications — I felt a moral obligation to do so. If I could prevent other families from experiencing healthcare complications, that would be fulfilling.

That’s how the idea for what is now illuminate.health was born.”

Read Varun’s full post on Linkedin and learn more about illuminate.health.

This year, we’re on a mission to tell the boots-on-the-ground stories of healthcare. Learn more about Stories That Matter.