Commentary |
Bridging Gaps in Healthcare: An Urgent Call for Avoiding Medication Errors and Improved Medication Reconciliation

by Angela Buxton

Why can I speak about this issue? I worked as a pharmacy technician before working as a Registered Nurse (RN) and ultimately becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) in 2000. I have been employed in health care for 33 years, including over 20 of those years as a NP. At present, I work in a specialized emergency service, and am attending the University of Washington for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. I am writing in hopes to affect change on this ubiquitous delivery of health care problem.

A personal story exemplifies this issue. My 90-year-old grandfather was discharged from an ER and resumed taking a long discontinued antihypertensive (blood pressure) medication from an old pill bottle. He took this in addition to his newly prescribed antihypertensive medication, both medications listed as active in his discharge instructions.

Fortunately, my grandfather was okay, and my mother caught this error and understandably had something to say about it. She drove back to the hospital to give them a piece of her mind, before recommending they come up with a better system. They agreed.

One recurring and nationwide theme are health care providers, and patients, becoming confused with the list of medications in their medical records in all phases of care, including at hospital admission and discharge. This medication list often includes medications that are listed as active and those they haven't taken at times since many years ago.

Sadly, this is not an exaggeration, and often leads to harmful medication errors which are a big problem during all phases of health care. Affected phases include outpatient ambulatory care clinics, during hospital admissions, during hospital stays and hospital discharge. Because of these gaps, medication errors are not surprisingly a leading cause of injury or death.

This is a serious issue that I believe can be solved with a concerted effort by an interdisciplinary team approach along with a streamlined electronic health record system. This is in addition to an emphasis on patient education throughout all stages of treatment which includes outpatient care, an urgent hospital visit or inpatient stay. Providers and ancillary services should always be involved in this process.

Better practice solutions:

1. For health care providers, at all phases of treatment, if it remains unclear if a patient is taking a medication, ask questions, and if medication reconciliation is not possible then list it as such. Increasing awareness of this problem in the advent of increasing use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) is key.

2. Incorporation of admission and discharge medication reconciliation as a continuous process by admitting and discharging RNs, the pharmacist and nurse practitioner and physicians.

As noted by J AM Med inform Association (2016) working towards a solution would include incorporating reconciliation modules that are interoperable with other Electronic Health Record components. This includes medication history, the computerized order set and discharge documentation. Some EHRs have some interoperability with external sources (hospitals, clinics, pharmacy) to import medication history and share updated medication list at discharge, although this is not fail safe and should not be relied on itself alone.

3. As health care consumers, don't be afraid to ask questions or clarification. Most health care providers want you to be involved in your own care. You reserve this right 100 percent and it is okay to ask questions and include your loved ones to advocate for you in your treatment plan.

In summary, medication confusion and errors are fear reaching. It is up to us as health care providers to be conscientious and provide essential emphasis on patient education and collaboration. Encouraging patients and their loved ones to actively participate in their care is vital. This includes asking questions and seeking clarification about medications along with interdisciplinary providers to help prevent confusion and potential medication errors. Involving patient's loved ones can contribute to healthy outcomes. Refining EHR is of the utmost importance.

I thank all health care providers for dedication to this important cause, and I wish success in your continued efforts to make a positive impact on health care practices while encouraging health consumers to be proactive in their care.

Angela Buxton, FNP-BC is a national Board-Certified (BC) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) since 2000 and who is originally from Massachusetts, obtaining her undergraduate and graduate degrees at UMASS, Amherst, and worked as both a Registered Nurse (RN) and FNP throughout her career. She is currently attending the University of Washington to expand her skills as a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Psychiatric Mental Health. She has now been working as a NP at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington for the last 20 years. She enjoys her role in assessing, diagnosing and developing client centered treatment plans, not limited to prescribing medications. Population includes those who are underserved and across the lifespan. She has membership in Snohomish County, WA Search and Rescue (SSAR), has participated in team endurance events with lessons learned that crossover into daily life. Other outside interests include photography, painting, skiing and hiking the Pacific Northwest.

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