How Common are Medication Errors after Hospital Discharge? Pill box with days of the week.

The Vanderbilt Inpatient Cohort Study examined the characteristics associated with patient- and medication-related errors after being discharged from the hospital. The study’s 471 participants were heart patients with an average age of 59. More than half – 242 of the 471 patients – made at least one mistake when taking their medicine or misunderstood the instructions given to them upon being discharged from the hospital. This included discrepancies between the medications they reported taking and the ones on their discharge list. A quarter of the participants left out one or more medications on their list and more than a third were taking something that wasn’t on their list. In addition, nearly 60% of the patients reported a misunderstanding of the purpose, dosage, and frequency of their medicine(s). In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 20% to 30% of prescriptions are never filled, and 50% are not continued as prescribed.

Being good at math or having higher “health literacy” helped a little, but almost everyone can have trouble with medication management.  People who score highest on health literacy tests prove about 16% less likely to make a medication error.  Those who score highest on math skills test are about 23% less likely to add or omit medications.  On the other hand, in this study, age and being single predicted higher odds of making a medication mistake.

This study adds to a large body of scientific evidence and confirms that medication discrepancies are an ongoing challenge in healthcare. Our home health services can also be an essential resource any time new medications or new diets are prescribed to retirees who meet Medicare’s definition of homebound. In part, homebound means to get around you should have someone’s help or the help of a device such as a cane or walker.  Our home health nurses can visit the homes of patients multiple times; make sure the meds prescribed are the meds being taken; make sure all doctors involved know what every other doctor prescribed; really take time to teach medications or diets; and then follow-up with our patients to make sure everything is going well.

Mixon A, Myers A, Leak C, et al. Characteristics associated with post discharge medication errors. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Aug 2014; 89 (8): 1042-1051.

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