July 10th, 2012 at 2:36 pm
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Guard against prescription mistakes after hospitalization

by Dorian Martin

Like many people his age, Dad is on multiple medications that have been prescribed by several doctors. Therefore, we’ve come to depend on Dad’s pharmacist to help make sure he doesn’t have any drug interactions when he’s prescribed something new. But new research underscores that that safety net doesn’t always work.

Prescription mistakes? More common than you think

A new study out of Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that nearly half of all cardiac patients have made at least one mistake related to drugs after being discharged from the hospital. Furthermore, a pharmacist’s assistance didn’t seem to reduce these errors.

According to HealthDay, the research team studied heart patients who had been hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Hospital and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Of this group, half were randomly assigned to meet with a pharmacist twice to review medications and receive instructions on how to manage their prescriptions upon discharge. These patients also received a medication chart and pillbox to use at home. Additionally, these patients were called by a study coordinator a few days after being discharged in order to identify any medication-related problems that might be happening. If any issues were identified during that call, a pharmacist made a follow-up phone call.

The other group of patients did not receive any special treatment involving pharmacists or the study coordinator. Instead, they met with a nurse or a doctor prior to their discharge to discuss medications.

The researchers followed up with study participants one month later. They found that 432 of the 851 patients had erred at least once when taking their medications. These errors, which were or could have been harmful, included missing doses, taking an incorrect dosage, ending the drug prematurely or continuing to take the drug for too long. The researchers found that approximately 25 percent of those errors were serious and approximately two percent were life-threatening. Interestingly, the researcher did not find a difference in the number of medication errors between the two study groups.

Tips for lowering prescription mistakes after hospitalization

So what can be done to lower this risk? Here are some ideas based on my own caregiving experience:

  1. Hold a family discussion. Family members should be part of the discussions between hospital staff and the patient when medications are being addressed and immediately prior to discharge. I’ve found that elders can become very confused when they are hospitalized. Therefore, having an extra set of eyes and ears on hand to take notes is important. It’s even better if that family member or caregiver can be available to dispense the medications once the elder returns home and is recovering.
  2. Talk with the pharmacist and physician after discharge. Elders should talk with their primary care doctor and pharmacist after being discharged from the hospital. You’d assume that these medical professionals would be informed about the particulars such as newly prescribed medications by the hospital staff, but that often isn’t the case. Therefore, it’s better to take a proactive approach where the elder — and caregiver — take the first step.
  3. The caregiver should have a list of medications. The elder should carry a list of medications at all time and should give an updated copy to the caregiver. That list should include the dosage, the frequency that the drug is taken and why the drug was prescribed.
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