Study highlights lack of knowledge regarding hospital medications

By Staff

In a new study to assess patient awareness of medications prescribed during a hospital visit, 44 percent of patients believed they were receiving a medication they were not, and 96 percent were unable to recall the name of at least one medication they had been prescribed. These findings are published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

"Overall, patients in the study were able to name fewer than half of their hospital medications," said lead researcher Ethan Cumbler, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and director of the University of Colorado Hospital's Acute Care for the Elderly Service. "Our findings are particularly striking in that we found significant deficits in patient understanding of hospital medications even among patients who believed they knew, or desired to know, what is being prescribed to them in the hospital."

The study involved 50 participants, ages 21 to 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 percent of medications they could take as needed, whereas patients older than 65 were unable to name 88 percent 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 percent of all omitted drugs being from this medication group, followed by cardiovascular medications (16 percent) and antithrombotics (15 percent). Among medications that could be taken as needed, analgesics (33 percent) and gastrointestinal medications (29 percent) 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," added Cumbler. "I believe 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."

Inpatient medication errors represent an important patient safety issue, with one review finding error in almost one in every five medication doses. The patient, as the last link in the medication administration chain, represents the final individual capable of preventing an incorrect medication administration.