Brown bags for health

Premera Blue Cross is working to improve patient safety, one brown paper bag at a time.

Ten years ago, Premera launched it’s “polypharmacy” brown bag medication review program.

The program is simple. Patients place all of the prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements and vitamins they’re using in a brown paper bag and take the bag to their next appointment with their primary care physician.

The doctor can then evaluate all of the medications to make sure there are no duplications or potentially dangerous drug combinations occurring.

“This can be an eye-opening experience for both patients and their doctors,” said Ed Wong, vice president of program development, operations and pharmacy at Premera Blu Cross. “We know of many instances where a dangerous drug combination has been revealed due to this simple review process.”

A survey of program participants found that 29 percent of patients had a medication change as a result of the brown bag program. In addition, 73 percent had their dosage changed and 63 percent stopped taking one or more medications.

The program was created as part of an effort to reach out to patients who are at the greatest risk for medication errors – those who take five or more medications for chronic conditions.

Since the program launched in 2001, more than 166,000 Premera members 19 years or older who fit the criteria have been targeted to participate in the program.

In addition to the brown paper bag, each person in the program is mailed information explaining they are at increased risk for medication-related problems. The packet also includes a medication log so members can log their medication usage and activity to review with their physicians.

“While we rely on much more than just a paper bag to prevent medication errors today, this simple approach continues to have a place,” Wong said. “It engages members directly by helping them understand how medications work and ultimately empowers them to play a more active role in their own health care.”

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