Monday, December 14, 2009

Staying safe in the hospital: Avoid medication errors

A new study of medication mistakes in UK hospitals found errors—such as incorrect doses or potentially harmful drug interactions—in nearly 9% of all prescriptions written. Fortunately almost all errors were caught and corrected by pharmacists, nurses, or other doctors before the drug was delivered to the patient. Meanwhile another small study in the US has found that 96% of hospitalized patients can’t remember the name of a t least one medication that they received, and 44% believe they are receiving drugs that they are not. Around a third of patients can’t recall instructions they receive about “as needed” drugs, such as pain relievers or meds to quell stomach acid.

Medication errors are potentially deadly, and knowing what to take when is important for patient comfort and recovery. A few important lessons can be learned from these two studies (and the body of research that supports their findings.)

1. Medicine is a team sport, and we should receive some comfort from the fact that most of the medication errors made in UK hospitals were corrected by other watchful members of a care team.

2. That being said, the patient is also part of this team, and needs some tools to improve their awareness of the meds they are receiving, or not receiving. A couple of ways to do this include: Having someone you trust with you as much as possible, especially in the moments after a procedure when you may be groggy and less aware than usual. Make sure your companion asks about medications that you are being given, and writes them down if necessary. When able, the patient should do this as well. Even in a busy hospital its perfectly reasonable to ask “So what are you giving me, and what is it for?”

3. Be sure you have a list of all medications you received, as well as instructions for what you should continue taking when you leave the hospital. Discharge planning is notoriously poor, and important information is frequently not relayed to the patient. Be sure you are aware of what you need to do to care for yourself when you get home (and have someone help you.)

4. Contact your regular doctor after you have left the hospital to make sure they have all the information needed about your hospital stay, and schedule a time to see them to discuss follow-up care.

While information like this sometimes makes it seem like patient awareness is necessary to make up for healthcare shortcomings, it’s important to remember that being an informed active participant in your own care is vital, even if you are receiving the best healthcare in the world.

Have you had any scary medication mix-ups while in the hospital? How were they detected, and what did you learn from them?

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