Heart Patients Often Make Medication Mistakes

By Amir Khan on July 3, 2012 2:57 PM EDT

Pills
Half of patients admitted to the hospital because of a heart attack will make a mistake with their medications shortly after being released from the hospital, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Half of patients admitted to the hospital because of a heart attack will make a mistake with their medications shortly after being released from the hospital, according to a new study, published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday.

"This shows how vulnerable patients are in the transition from hospital to home," Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study, told HealthDay. "Many had thought that having pharmacist assistance, counseling and individual follow-up would reduce or even eliminate the likelihood of having an adverse drug event."

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Researchers looked at over 851 people and found that within a month after being discharged from the hospital, 50 percent had one or more medication errors. Of those errors, 23 percent were deemed "serious" and 1.8 percent was "life-threatening," according to the study.

"Patients, caregivers and family members need to be knowledgeable about drug names, dosing and which medications should be discontinued, and which should continued, after hospitalization," Fonarow said. "This information should be given verbally and in writing to all involved parties. It needs to be recognized that even with all of these steps, there is still a potential for clinically important medical errors."

Dr. Adam Auerbach, director of inpatient cardiac services at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said medication errors are a large problem, and that there is "definitely" an economic component to the mistakes.

Because of the high cost of drugs, Auerbach said many patients skip doses or cut pills in half in an effort to stretch the medication. Doctors need to ensure patients understand how to take their medication properly, he added.

"We are looking at a 'teach-back' program where we each teach patients about their medications and then they teach it back to us," he told HealthDay. "We are also rolling out a program where we go to a patient's house within 72 hours after discharge to make sure they are on the right medications."

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