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Communication Errors Lead to Medication Mistakes

David W. Hodges
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Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law
Posted on Feb 13, 2013

Have you ever received a prescription from a doctor or pharmacist and didn’t understand it? Or, maybe you were sent home from the hospital with medication and were confused on when to take it or how long to take it? According to a recent study by Yale-New Haven Hospital, three out of four patients are being sent home from the hospital with wrong prescriptions or do not understand their medications.

This study reveals that there is a huge communication failure not only at this hospital but at hospitals nationwide, which has led to discharge medication errors. Eighty-one percent of seniors with heart failure, acute coronary syndrome or pneumonia experienced provider error when being discharged from the hospital. These errors included:

  • 24% experienced an error in discharge medications.
  • 60% did not understand at least one of their medication changes.

If patients are not educated about their medications, they are at risk for adverse medication reactions. However, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that communication error between medical providers and patients isn’t the only miscommunication that can lead to medication mistakes. Communication between the doctor and pharmacy can also result in error.

The study reviewed Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (HVMA) ambulatory patients who received drugs from HVMA pharmacy and discovered that when a doctor discontinued a patient’s medication, most of the time the physician’s office did not inform the pharmacy of the change.

Based on these two studies, it is critical that all parties involved seek better communication to reduce medication errors. Researchers involved in these studies suggest better usage of electronic health records to increase medication safety.

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