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What is the most important item in your wallet? Is it your keys? Your driver's license, or perhaps your bank card?

The most important, and often overlooked, item that you should carry is actually an up-to-date and accurate list of medications you are taking. It only takes a few moments to compile and may help health care workers treat you or a loved one in the event of an emergency.

Why it matters

Life doesn't always happen as we plan. Sometimes emergencies arise and we must seek help from an emergency room.

"Imagine that you are incapacitated. A nurse asks your loved ones or caregiver what medications you are taking,” says Arlene Phillips, director for senior services at John Muir Health.

 “They may not know that you take heart medication or the appropriate dose to treat your high blood pressure. They may not be familiar with any allergies you have,” she says. “Missing a dose of any vital medication can impact your health."

By keeping an up-to-date list of medications readily available and with you at all times, you are playing an active role in your treatment, providing important information to medical staff and enabling them to know how best to proceed.

Changes in the medical field and the conveniences of modern living also make medication reconciliation a necessity. "Many years ago, people had one primary doctor and only visited their local pharmacist," says Dr. Lawren Hicks, MD, medical director for senior services at John Muir Health.

"Now, patients have specialists to help care for a variety of conditions which can result in more prescriptions. People no longer utilize just the neighborhood pharmacy. They can shop around for the best deal,” he says.

”As a result, it can be difficult for medical professionals to know exactly all of the drugs a patient is taking and to double-check the interactions between medications."

Medication reconciliation

Health care professionals call it ‘medication reconciliation.’ Medication reconciliation is the process of comparing patients' current medications to any new medications that your doctor may order during treatment.

"A thorough medication list that you keep in your wallet can tell a healthcare provider a lot about you," says Phillips.

"It should list any allergies you have, prior adverse reactions and most importantly, include any current medications, with dosage and frequency, that you are taking," notes Dr. Hicks.

The medication list should also include non-prescription medications such as supplements, aspirin, vitamins, and minerals.


Dr. Hicks offers the following tips for patients:

  • Create a list of all medications you are taking. Don't forget vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal supplements.
  • The list should include the name of the medication, the dose, and the number of times a day you have to take it.
  • Include information about how to take the medication (with or without food, as a pill, as a shot).
  • Include information about any allergies.
  • Share the list with close friends, family, and caregivers.
  • Keep the list handy in case of an emergency (purse, wallet, car, and work).
  • Update the list as needed.
  • Create a list for your children, spouse/ partner, and any elderly relatives.

Not just for emergencies

Keeping an accurate medication list isn't just in case of emergencies. As Dr. Hicks points out, "Patients should bring all of the medications on their list in the original bottles in a plastic bag, whenever they visit a physician.”

“This is especially important if they are visiting a new physician for the first time as this is helpful in clearing up any possible confusion, especially for patients who may be older or have cognitive decline," he says.

 Phillips also recommends taking the same steps should you or a loved one have to go to the hospital.

"Having a medication list handy is an easy and important way to let your medical providers know about your health," says Dr. Hicks. "It only takes a few moments to compile and gives you, the patient, the tools to help make decisions about your care."