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High-risk of medication errors for heart patients

Patients being treated for a heart condition may be given multiple prescriptions with complicated instructions. A recent study found that half of all heart patients made at least one medication-related mistake after they left the hospital. According to research, even guidance from a pharmacist did not seem to reduce those errors. Patients in New York and nationwide can protect themselves and help prevent medical errors by helping loved ones track medications.

Consequences of a medication error can range from minor side effects, including constipation to more serious risks, including a drop in blood pressure. A small percentage of medication errors can be life-threatening.

Some hospitals have taken steps to intervene early to prevent medication errors. Hospitals were surprised that despite efforts, 50% of patients were still having medication errors. This could mean that there is still a miscommunication between pharmacist and patient or patients are not given proper warnings about medication errors. The majority of patients who made mistakes were on multiple drugs or had trouble understanding health information.

In their study, half of the heart condition patients were assigned two visits with a pharmacist. The pharmacist would assess medications and instruct them on what to do when they left the hospital. Patients also received tools, including a medication chart and pillbox. After leaving the hospital, patients received a phone call from a coordinator who could help identify medication-problems or answer medication related questions. Still, half of patients made medication errors after a month.

To protect yourself or a loved one, keep a list of medications that you are on and bring it to the pharmacist when you pick up medications. Families can promote safety by keeping this list which should contain information about the reason for taking each medication, the dosage, and any side effects or complications.

Source: Reuters, "Half of all heart patients make medication errors," Andrew M. Seaman, July 4, 2012.