Medication Errors Common after Hospital Discharge

A new study indicates that over half of heart patients made medication errors or misunderstood instructions given to them about their medications after being discharged from hospital stays. The study highlighted the importance of medical professionals giving clear, easy-to-understand instructions. It also indicated that “health literacy” in general decreased the likelihood of risky medication errors.

This study is another indication that a person’s ability to interpret and act on health information strongly determines if a patient will correctly follow medication and care instructions. According to the CDC, a large percentage of the population does not have this health literacy. Around 20-30% of prescriptions are never filled, and over 50% of prescriptions are not finished or taken as prescribed. This indicates that medication errors by the heart patients in the study may be part of a greater trend of medication errors after hospital stays.

Factors That Influence Whether or Not a Patient Follows Care Instructions

Dr. Amanda Mixon and her team assessed 471 people hospitalized for heart failure, heart attacks, and related heart conditions in this study to determine which factors may influence a person’s likelihood of making a medication error. The study participants had an average age of 59 and almost half were women. The participants were given a health literacy test to gauge their understanding of health information and a numeracy test to measure basic math skills. Then doctors followed up with patients after discharging them from the hospital to see how well the patients followed medication instructions.

Over half the patients in the study made medication errors or misunderstood instructions given by doctors. One-fourth of patients left out one or more prescribed medications and more than a third were taking something that they were not supposed to take. Fifty-nine percent of the patients in the study misunderstood the purpose, dosage, or frequency of their medications.

The results did reveal some patterns in which patients were more likely to make errors. Patients scoring highest on the math skills test were 23% less likely to add or omit medications than low-scoring patients. Patients with the highest health literacy scores were about 16% less likely to make any medication errors. In general, people with lower cognitive function were more prone to medication errors.

Demographics had an influence on the study as well. Women were about 40% less likely to make a mistake than men were. Interestingly, single people of all ages were about 70% more likely to make a medication error than married people were. However, older people were increasingly more prone to medication errors.

The doctors involved in the study suggest that a screening tool could be helpful to determine which patients may be more likely to make medication errors. This would allow doctors to give added care to those who need it. Until something like a screening test can be comprehensively administered, doctors need to make sure to keep in mind patients that may need more information about medications, in order to fulfill their duty of care.