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Patient Knowledge of Their Meds Woeful, Says Study

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, December 10, 2009

Nearly half of hospital patients thought they were receiving a medication they were not, and 96% were unable to recall the name of at least one medication that they had been prescribed during their hospitalization, according to a study released today in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine assessed patient awareness of their in-hospital medications and surveyed attitudes toward increased patient knowledge of hospital medications.

"Overall, patients in the study were able to name fewer than half of their hospital medications," said lead researcher Ethan Cumbler, MD, in a media release. "Our findings are particularly striking in that we found significant deficits in patient understanding of their hospital medications even among patients who believed they knew, or desired to know, what is being prescribed to them in the hospital."

Inpatient medication errors represent an important patient safety issue—with one review finding errors in almost one in five medication doses. Cumbler said it is becoming more important for patients—as the last link in the administration chain —to be informed about the medications they’re receiving.

The study involved 50 participants, aged between 21 and 89, who all self-identified as knowing their outpatient medications, spoke English, and were from the community around the University of Colorado Hospital. Nursing home residents and patients with a history of dementia were excluded.

Patients younger than 65 were unable to name 60% of medications that they could take as needed, whereas patients older than 65 were unable to name 88% of these medications. This difference remained even after adjustment for number of medications. For scheduled medications, which need to be taken at specific times, there was no difference in recall according to age.

Antibiotics were the most commonly omitted scheduled medication with 17% of all omitted drugs being from this medication group, followed by cardiovascular medications (16%) and antithrombotics (15%). Among medications that could be taken as needed, analgesics (33%) and gastrointestinal medications (29%) were commonly omitted by patient recall.

"Our study suggests that adult medicine inpatients believe learning about their hospital medications would increase their satisfaction and has potential to promote medication safety," Cumbler said. "The findings of this research raise very interesting questions about the role and responsibilities of patients in the hospital with respect to their medication safety."


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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