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Medication Errors Affect Half of Heart Patients

Even With Pharmacists' Help, Errors Common, Researchers Find
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Medication Errors: Study Results

Of the 851 patients, 432, or just over 50%, had one or more medication errors in the month after hospital discharge.

In the usual-care group, 407 ''clinically important'' medication errors were found, compared to 370 in the group that received additional counseling.

Of these, seven in each group were life threatening, although none proved fatal.

Most often involved in errors were:

  • Heart disease drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Opioids for pain
  • Cholesterol drugs
  • Herbs, vitamins, supplements
  • Diabetes drugs
  • Anti-clotting drugs

Some errors could have been avoided, the researchers say, by closer monitoring by doctors or pharmacists.

Common medication errors included:

  • Missed or incorrect doses
  • Stopping a medicine before instructed
  • Not filling a prescription
  • Taking a medicine less or more often than prescribed

Medication Errors: Discussion

Although the extra pharmacist help didn't reduce the overall medication errors, Kripalani says it seemed to help some.

"What our subgroup analysis hinted at is that patients with more complex medication regimens, those with low health literacy, patients who tend to have more trouble understanding and managing their health, and those who had cognitive problems, tended to benefit more," he says.

Kripalani is a consultant, too, and holds equity in PictureRx, which produces patient education materials. It had no role in the study.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute was the primary funding source.

Medication Errors: Pharmacists Weigh In

The 50% finding is surprising, says Allen Vaida, PharmD, executive vice president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. He reviewed the findings for WebMD.

The errors occurred, he points out, at hospitals with excellent programs to minimize medication errors.

"That should be a wakeup call," he says, reminding people that errors can happen even at top hospitals.

The study suggests that talking to patients about medicines only at the time of hospital discharge is not ideal, says Cynthia Reilly, a spokeswoman for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

A growing trend among hospital pharmacists, she says, is to telephone patients after discharge, as those in the study did, to check up on medications.

"There is definitely that critical time frame -- say, the first 10 days after a patient is discharged -- when medication error is more likely," she tells WebMD.

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