Heart Care

Medication Mix-ups Common in Heart Patients

Half of people in the hospital for a heart attack or heart failure make a mistake with their medications within a month of going home. This is true even among people who get counseling and guidance from a pharmacist.

Photo of nurse talking with man holding a pill bottle

In a recent study, researchers surveyed more than 850 patients at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. All of the patients were highly educated, yet they still had problems following instructions.

At least one error

The researchers found that half of the patients made at least one medication error. About 23 percent were serious errors, and 1.8 percent were life threatening.

"This shows how vulnerable patients are in the transition from hospital to home," says Gregg Fonarow, M.D., a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Dr. Fonarow says both patients and caregivers should learn drug names and dosing, and which medications should be discontinued, or continued, after leaving the hospital. EXT

"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," he says.

A different approach

Teach-back programs are another way to combat medication errors. In a pilot teach-back program recently started at North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., caregivers teach patients about their medications and then the patients "teach" or repeat the information back to the caregivers.

"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," says Adam Auerbach, M.D., director of inpatient cardiac services at North Shore Hospital.

According to Dr. Auerbach, part of the problem is financial. People often skip doses or split pills to save money. Choosing generic medications, when possible, can help cut the cost factor.

Support helps prevention

Dr. Auerbach also says that people with a strong support network tend to do better because they have more than one caregiver keeping an eye on their recovery.

North Shore also asks patients to bring all of their medications with them to every visit to ensure that the drugs are being taken correctly.

According to other experts, using one pharmacy for all your prescription and medication needs is best because interactions and potential problems can more easily be found.

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors

FDA - Medication Errors

Institute for Safe Medicine Practices - General Advice on Safe Medication Use

September 2012

Tips to Help You Remember

Taking medication as prescribed is important to your health. An extra, missed, or wrong dosage can be dangerous.

Here are ideas to help you make your pill-taking routine and reduce the chance for errors:

  • Have a system. If you take more than two medications, consider getting a pill organizer, a special container marked with the days of the week. Besides holding multiple medications, an organizer can help you keep track of the medications you've taken. Be sure to label each bin with the name of the medication and other relevant information so you load the organizer correctly.

  • Take your cues. If you have trouble remembering to take your medications, you'll need to develop cues that remind you. For example, you could program your computer, smart phone, or wristwatch to sound reminder alarms. You also can purchase pill caps that beep or sound an alarm when you need to take the medications. The timer automatically resets for the next time.

  • Other tips. Train yourself to take your medications at a specific time by placing them in strategic location - like on the breakfast table, next to the bathroom sink, or in the cabinet with your toothbrush. A surprisingly effective, low-tech option is to make a checklist of all your medications and the time and day you need to take them, then put it on your refrigerator or another prominent place.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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