Many hospitals fail at drug communication, our Ratings find

Consumer Reports News: December 01, 2011 09:08 AM

Doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff often do a terrible job of talking with patients about the medications they take while they’re in the hospital, according to our updated hospital Ratings published this month. More than half of the hospitals we Rated got our lowest score in that measure, and an additional 30 percent received our second lowest Rating.

And while you might think that teaching hospitals would do better than community hospitals in talking with patients about medication, they actually tended to do worse. Overall, 98 percent of them got our lowest or second lowest Rating.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that, on average, there's at least one medication error for every admitted patient. That’s partly because the average patient takes 10 different drugs while in the hospital, increasing the chance of drug mix-ups, overdoses, and interactions. But failure to adequately communicate with patients also contributes to errors.

“Too often, hospitals seem to look at talking about drugs with patients as a formality,” says John Santa, M.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “But it’s not. It’s essential to keeping patients safe, both in the hospital and when they get home. And failure to do a better job at communicating with patients about drugs is one reason that hospital errors in this country are unacceptably high.”

If hospital staff doesn’t initiate a conversation with you about your medication, you should. Here are three simple things you can do to make sure that you, and the hospital, get all the needed information:

1. Make a drug list before you enter the hospital. Include all of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take, as well as the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other dietary supplements. Bring multiple copies of the list with you to the hospital and give it to the doctors and pharmacists there, so they can check for any interactions or duplicates with medication you start in the hospital.

2. Check your wristband. Make sure your name is spelled right, and all drug allergies are listed. Make sure that hospital staff checks the band each time they give you a drug. If they don't, mention your name and your allergies. In one study, giving the wrong drug to patients was the second-most common error.

3. Get a drug list when you leave the hospital. Make sure it includes drugs you started in the hospital that you should continue when you get home, including their purpose, dosages, directions for use, and side effects. Also ask if you should resume or eliminate drugs you were on before your admission. Bring that list with you to any follow-up appointments you have after you get home, too.

Use our hospital Ratings to see how hospitals in your area performed in communicating about medication, as well as other measures. And see our tips on how to stay safe in the hospital.

Joel Keehn


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