are hospital discharge procedures adequate when it comes to medications

There is simply no disputing the gravity of a major medication error. The wrong dosage, the wrong drug or the administration of the wrong combination of drugs can all prove utterly devastating — if not fatal — to a patient. As such, physicians, pharmacists and nurses must all work together to help ensure that patients are prescribed and administered the appropriate medications.

Similarly, medical professionals must also take steps to ensure that hospitalized patients — particularly those who have undergone major procedures — receive the necessary instructions on their medications upon discharge from the hospital.

Interestingly, a group of researchers recently set out to study the efficacy of current hospital procedure as it relates to medications and discharge, meaning they wanted to determine if more can and should be done to assist patients with understanding their medication regimen upon release.

In order to accomplish this, the researchers studied a random sampling of 851 patients who had been admitted to either Vanderbilt University Hospital or Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for some type of heart condition.

Half of these heart patients were scheduled for two separate visits with a pharmacist who sat down with them and talked through their various medications prior to their discharge, including how to properly manage them once they got home and how to reduce side effects.

These patients also received a printed medication chart, a pillbox, and a telephone call from a study coordinator to identity any potential medication issues and connect them to a pharmacist if necessary.

The other half of the heart patients underwent standard hospital protocol upon discharge, meaning they only spent a few minutes discussing their medications with a physician or nurse prior to their release.

Somewhat surprisingly, the researchers found that at approximately one month later, half of the heart patients — including an equal number of patients from both research pools — had made at least one harmful or potentially harmful mistake when taking their medication. In fact, nearly a quarter of these medication errors were determined to be serious while two percent were determined to be life threatening.

The researchers concluded that the fact that not all patients had received two visits from a pharmacist may have played a role in the results and that more studies were needed to see if this phenomenon was unique to heart patients.

One thing appears painfully obvious from this study: hospitals need to be doing more to help protect patients from the serious harm that can come from misunderstanding or lack of proper information regarding prescription medication. It is simply unacceptable that someone should have to suffer unnecessarily because a medical professional didn’t take the time to make sure that a patient fully understood their medication regimen both prior to and after their release.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, “Half of all heart patients make medication errors,” Andrew Seaman, July 4, 2012

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