Perhaps the most commonly cited example is the mixture of aspirin and vitamin C. If taken together, the combination may cause digestional bleeding. Solution? Don't take the two at the same time.
If only it were all so simple. For many people who are taking life-improving and sometimes life-extending medications, it is sometimes difficult to pronounce the names of the various tablets and capsules in the daily pill tray, much less decipher the pharmacological interactions that might occur. And, although we might wish otherwise, many doctors have the same limitations as do other normal human beings.
Part of the miracle of modern medicine, then, is the rather mundane task of keeping track of which patient is taking what, and whether it will hurt him or her. As The National reports today, Daman is rolling out a much-needed solution to this problem, which should help doctors determine which medications are safe. The Pharmacy Benefits Management system, which is being adopted by almost all of the 39 insurance companies in Abu Dhabi, cross-checks a patient's prescription with pre-existing medications, and flags potential problems.
The key here is shared medical data. Many people will visit multiple clinics or hospitals depending on their ailments, and their records need to be shared to spot a possible conflict. That raises privacy concerns for some, and there should be legal assurances that information about a person's health cannot fall into the wrong hands or be misused. At the end of the day, however, the argument that your doctor should have all of the information necessary to administer the appropriate treatment should be compelling for most people.
At present, the pharmacy management system is insurance driven; if a patient chooses to pay for medication out of pocket, the purchase will bypass the system. (A side benefit, for insurance companies, is that logging each medication into the database confirms that it is covered by the patient's policy.)
Abu Dhabi in particular is a good test case for this kind of system. Every legally employed resident is required to have health insurance. From there, surely it is a short step towards a unified medical database.