Scott Overholt
UHN kidney transplant patient Scott Overholt says understanding why he was taking each medication was helpful for him in learning how to take them. (Photo: Courtesy Scott Overholt)

A kidney transplant surgery is life changing in many ways. For Scott Overholt, it felt like a second chance.

The transition after any major health event is not easy. Lifestyle changes may include a new diet or physical activity routine, the need for extra help around the house, or rethinking career or travel plans. 

For Scott, a UHN patient, one of the major adjustments after his transplant surgery was his strict new medication regimen, something most transplant patients, and people living with chronic conditions, can relate to.

Taking medications properly – the right medication, the right dose at the right time – can be hard to manage, especially for patients who are on many different medications. It's no surprise that taking medication incorrectly can have a serious impact on a patient's health.

"If I don't take my meds, I'll lose my kidney," Scott says. "It's as simple as that."

October is Health Literacy Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of patients having the necessary tools and skills to manage their health, or to care for their loved ones.

Health literacy means using many different skills to get, understand, communicate and use information to make informed decisions about your health and navigate the healthcare system.

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When it comes to medications, these important skills include knowing what a medication is used for, why it has been prescribed, and what side effects to watch for. Understanding dose instructions, such as what time to take a medication or whether it's taken with food or on an empty stomach, are also key.

Knowing what questions to ask and who to go to for help, are also important skills to develop.

For Scott, the UHN Kidney Transplant Team played a key role in helping him build these skills.  He received information about lifestyle changes, including medication management, leading up to his surgery and throughout his care journey at UHN.

Engaged in his own medication management

During his time in hospital, Scott took part in classes on proper medication management and had the opportunity to practice taking his medications before going home. The transplant pharmacist also reviewed Scott's medications with him before he left the hospital and gave him a chart of all the medications he would be taking, along with the dates, times and doses, to use when he went home.

Scott found understanding why he was taking each medication was helpful for him in learning how to take them.

"There was the medication for my kidney, which could lead to high blood pressure," he says. "So, I took a pill for that. My anti-rejection pills increased my cholesterol, so I took a pill for that too.

"Instead of just thinking this was a pill I had to take, knowing why I was taking each helped me to understand why it was important for my health."

Scott's engagement in his medication management also helped him to play a key role in his own safety at UHN.

Sometimes, during his appointments, he would see that his doctor's medication list had outdated doses. Scott kept a current list of his medications with him, including the correct doses, and was able to show his team so they could update his hospital record. He was also able to use this tool at the pharmacy if he arrived before they had received his updated prescriptions.

Keeping a complete, updated medication list helped him prevent errors and potential risks to his health.

Based on his experiences, Scott shares other tools and tips for medication management.

Use reminders and visual cues: keep medications out on the counter where they can be seen. Set up reminders or alarms using a phone or watch to ensure medications are taken at the right time; remember to order refills. Don't rely on memory alone – use the tools available to help.

Use medication organizers: use a pill organizer to prepare medications for the week ahead. But, only do this after the medication routine has settled, not while doses and meds are frequently changing, as this may be confusing to fix afterward.  

Note changes and refill requests on pill bottles: in addition to updating personal medication lists, note any changes right on the bottle label. Scott suggests that if you have multiple medications with refills, marking an "x" on the bottle noting a refill has been ordered from the pharmacy.

Bring extra when travelling, even short distances: in case of emergency or change in plans, Scott always keeps one extra days' worth of his medications with him, even if he doesn't plan to stay somewhere overnight. If your medications need to be kept at a certain temperature, be sure to bring a cooler. Do not leave them in a hot car.

Fill all prescriptions at one pharmacy: this will help you and your care team to keep track of any side effects or drug interactions. Find a pharmacy where you feel comfortable, either at the hospital or in the community. A pharmacist can be a great resource for any questions about medications, and is often available during hours when the clinic may not be accessible. For questions about specific medications, ask your healthcare provider or a pharmacist.

Read more tips and tools related to safe medication management, including medication trackers, app suggestions, questions to ask at UHN Patient and Family Libraries. ​

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