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Study Finds Elderly Patients Suffer Many Medication Errors

David W. Hodges
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Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law
Posted on Apr 09, 2012
A New York pharmacist has undertaken a pilot program to help seniors avoid harmful medication errors - bringing the pharmacy right to their door.

"It's a logical move," said Joseph Nathan, MS, PharmD, director of the International Drug Information Center and associate professor of Pharmacy Practice, Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Long Island University, Brooklyn, N.Y. 

The program involves a new way of looking at medication therapy management (MTM). Many seniors do not understand their medication treatments, but neglect to ask questions. In addition, they visit the pharmacy infrequently, have a caretaker go for them, or receive their medications by mail. 

In a recent pilot program, Nathan and his fifth-year pharmacy students made MTM house calls to patients in their own homes and living in long-term care facilities. All patients were at least 65 years old and taking nine prescription medications or more. The home visits lasted anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.

Nathan reported that while errors varied, every patient visited had some kind of medication problem. Some patients took conflicting medications, some were taking doses irregularly - but the biggest problem lay in reading the pharmacy labels.

Many medications had incomplete labels; one vial was labeled "Take 1 tablet every." More commonly, the patients did not understand the labels’ instructions. One patient took a dose of his medication mid-morning and a second dose mid-afternoon because the label simply stated "twice a day," with no indication of the time between doses. Another patientmisunderstood "2 tablets daily" as one tablet in the morning and one in the evening.

"We take a lot for granted about what patients do and do not understand," Nathan said. "Too often in pharmacy, we never see the outcome of what we do."

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