A friend of mine went on vacation for just a few days the other week out-of-state. She called me in a panic.

“I forgot my meds!”

“I wish I could help you out. Have you tried calling your doctor?”

“I did, and I got this weird message about needing to unblock my phone, press *87 for a callback. That was hours ago, and still no call back!”

Hmm, no callback after hours?

So I offered to call her doctor for her on a landline, got right through, and got a real phone number that she was then able to use with little trouble. However, she still had to leave a message for the physician on call, and is still sitting there, waiting patiently for a callback that may or may not come.

It got me to wondering… Shouldn’t there be a more reliable system in place for people who are taking everyday medications, but forget them when they go away? Or, inadvertantly run out of them and get them through mail-order?

The current system is one based largely on hope and trust. Hope that your doctor (or their covering physician) gets your message, and trust that they actually act on that information in a timely manner.

If the problem occurs during normal business hours on a weekday, you have good reason to believe your problem will be resolved quickly. A call will be made to the local pharmacy of wherever you’re staying, and your prescription will be ready in just an hour or two.

But what happens when it’s the weekend? Or worse, a holiday? Or even worse yet, a weekend holiday?

Then, you’re at the luck of the draw. While doctors are of course have coverage during these times too, weekends and holidays mean the doctor may not be as readily available to listen to his or her messages, then sit down and take the time to attend to them until much later… if at all. (I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard throughout the years of people falling through the cracks of this crazy “system.”)

There’s a much easier solution to this problem.

One Solution: A National “Emergency Prescription” Database

Pharmacies could be empowered to dispense certain prescription medications without a prescription and in very limited quantities (say, less than 3 or 4 pills). A nationwide, secure database could be created to track such prescriptions, to reduce abuse.

Here’s how it might work:

  1. Person is on vacation and forgets their medications. The medication is important to their daily life functioning.
  2. Person stops by local pharmacy to obtain a new, temporary refill for medication based upon the information the person provides.
  3. Person shows photo ID.
  4. The person’s personal information is entered into a nationwide, secure emergency prescription database and is checked for duplicates (to stop pharmacy shopping and gaining more than the maximum allotted allowance of 3 or 4 pills).
  5. If person checks out in the database, person is given emergency refill of 3 or 4 pills of medication. Since the person’s information is now in the emergency prescription database, they can’t get another emergency refill for at least X number of days.
  6. Person must pay out of pocket for emergency refill (so you don’t have to worry about insurance issues).
  7. Only certain medications would be available under this plan, such as antidepressants or similar medications where the risk of abuse is low and the risk of being off of them for a few days imposing significant negative side effects is high.

Another Solution: A National Prescription Database

An alternative solution to this concern is even easier, and I’m frankly surprised is not readily available.

You can already transfer “scripts” (the prescription your doctor writes) from one pharmacy to another. But in my friend’s case (it being the weekend, I guess), they said it would take 2 days to do that (she’d be home in 3, so not much point in doing that).

In this day and age, why can’t scripts be available to all pharmacies at all times?

All prescriptions written by your doctor should be scanned into a national, secure database. It is available to any authorized medical professional or pharmacist.

So when you go away on vacation and forget your meds, all the local pharmacist need do is consult this nationwide database, see your valid and active prescription, and offer you an emergency supply (even if the prescription is just expired or goes over the usual limits, given the emergency nature).

This national prescription database, not your local pharmacy’s database, would now keep track of how many pills are left on your prescription. That would also have the added benefit of cutting down on all the prescription abuse problems seen today already (such as a person taking one script, copying it, and having it filled at multiple pharmacies).

How is it that in 2012 and electronic medical records everywhere that this kind of system isn’t already in place?

* * *

After waiting all day for a call back from the doctor on call, the call came only after the pharmacy was closed for the day. Apparently some doctors have no sense that pharmacies in the U.S. generally are only open during daylight, business hours.

Some people react very badly when they miss one (much less more than one) dose of a prescribed medication. Their body — so used to getting this particular medication — freaks out, and in my friend’s case, she becomes very queasy and nauseous. She got her medications the next day when the pharmacy re-opened.

The simple answer, “Get another doctor!”, doesn’t help in situations like this. There has to be a better way. My friend’s vacation went from “Yay, vacation!” to “Yay, anxiety attack!” overnight while trying to deal with the situation.

I know, in a true emergency, there’s always the E.R. But who wants to spend hours in an overbooked and understaffed E.R. waiting for a single antidepressant pill while on vacation?