Prepare Your Medicine Cabinet

October 2, 2017

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

What’s in your medicine cabinet? We sat down with Dr. Mark Friedman, First Stop Health’s Chief Medical Officer and a veteran emergency room physician, and he said there’s a critical item missing from most people’s medicine cabinets: a thermometer.

Why You Need a Thermometer

“There are very few objective things you can measure at home that will help a doctor, and temperature is one of them,” Dr. Friedman stresses. “A thermometer is very important.”

Dr. Friedman remembers when, about 30 years ago, all the affordable and accurate mercury thermometers were thrown away because of the potential risk of mercury poisoning. “Never mind that I’d never seen a single patient with mercury poisoning,” he says, noting that people would have to break the thermometer and swallow its contents to get sick. Mercury poisoning is serious, but unfortunately, because digital thermometers were at the time several times more expensive, few people replaced the ones they threw away. As a result, Dr. Friedman says that the majority of his patients cannot tell him their temperature from home.

How to Shop for a Thermometer

The good news is there’s now a range of more affordable options on the market. The most accurate are rectal thermometers, which are typically used on babies, as older children and adults don’t tend to tolerate them as well. In fact, American Academy of Pediatrics advises using only rectal thermometers in children 3 and under, and advises against under-the-armpit ones, which Mayo Clinic reports to be the least accurate. ConsumerSearch calls Vicks V934 the best rectal thermometer on the market. It costs $11 and is accurate to 0.2 degrees—but be warned, it doesn’t display results in Celsius. The runner-up is the Safety 1st Gentle Read, which is $6. (Consumer Reports rates 10 thermometers as well, which range from $4.50 to $80.)

Oral thermometers are also considered highly accurate, and the highest-rated ones tend to cost anywhere from $15 to $50. ConsumerSearch rates the Generation Guard Clinical Digital Thermometer the top of the pack, and it costs $15, is accurate to 0.2 degrees, and switches easily between Fahrenheit and Celsius. The runner-up, Vicks Comfort Flex Digital, is $10. Dr. Friedman recommends avoiding temporal (forehead) ones, which tend to be less accurate.

Beyond the Thermometer: Other useful tidbits

Once you’ve got your thermometer, the following checklist should cover the basics for your home medicine cabinet:

  • Band-Aids and bandage material, like gauze pads and tape
  • Fever reducers and pain medicine, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, including liquid versions for infants and children if you have kids
  • Antibiotic ointment for scrapes and wounds, like bacitracin
  • An antiseptic to kill germs around the wound (don’t put these on the wound), like Betadine, though soap and water are a good option as well

But the best thing to keep handy in the event of an injury or illness is First Stop Health’s phone number: 888-691-7867.  

Originally published Oct 2, 2017 12:00:00 PM.