Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals work with pharmacies to reduce medication errors, readmissions

Hospitals looking to reduce the risk of readmissions among patients may have found another ally – the pharmacy where a patient gets medications after being discharged.

Medication issues are common among patients who’ve just left the hospital. With the flurry of activity surrounding discharge, patients may get confused about what medications they’re supposed to take at which times – or the effects on their health if they don’t take them properly.

This confusion can land a patient right back in the hospital, so many hospitals are being proactive in managing patient care by partnering with pharmacies to educate patients about their medications.

In this relationship, pharmacists act as “coaches” for patients, driving home the importance of taking their medications as prescribed, according to a story from NPR.

When a patient is discharged from the hospital, pharmacists will double check the medication list for any potential conflicts and report them to the hospital. They’ll also talk directly with patients, answering any questions they have about the drugs.

Success story

Research shows this approach is helpful. A study from the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that, when one health system implemented a similar program, overall readmissions rates declined for patients. Readmissions specifically due to adverse drug events also declined.

In the AHRQ study, researchers looked at an initiative from Novant Health, a health system serving patients in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Through the Safe Med program, Novant Health had a team of pharmacists call recently discharged patients to review all their medications with them, both prescription and over-the-counter (including herbal supplements).  The pharmacists then cross-referenced what the patient reported with the hospital’s medication list, addressing any differences between the two.

Then, if necessary, the pharmacists gave a copy of the corrected list to both the patient and the patient’s primary care physician.

Additionally, pharmacists would help coordinate any follow-up care the patient needed based on info relayed during the phone call. Thirty days after the initial call, a pharmacy tech called the patient again to check on his or her progress.

Novant Health used a priority system to determine which patients to call based on their likelihood of experiencing a severe drug reaction that could land them back in the hospital.  Risk factors included age (being 65 or older), number of medications taken (eight or more), types of medications taken (anticoagulants, potassium, sedatives, etc.), being released after a prolonged hospital stay, and having cognitive impairment.

Pharmacists had access to patient medical records via an electronic health records (EHR) system, and they would prep for their calls by reviewing this info. Once calls are finished, the pharmacists document any new findings into a database so it’s accessible for future reference.

The Safe Med program was so successful for Novant Health that it was expanded to cover patients of all ages who were hospitalized for diabetes – and outpatient facilities now use it for patients as well.

Similar program

Looking to try something like this in your hospital? The pharmacy chain Walgreens offers a similar service through its WellTransitions program.

In the program, Walgreens pharmacists work closely with hospital staff and other healthcare providers to ensure patients don’t suffer adverse effects from their medications.

The system operates similarly to the Safe Med program. Pharmacists compare patients’ new prescriptions with their existing ones and provide them with their drugs directly after discharge. Patients receive a follow-up call nine days after they’ve been discharged, and are contacted again after 25 days away from the hospital.

And, to measure just how effective the collaboration is, Walgreens provides its partners with monthly progress reports detailing exactly how their efforts are reducing costs and readmissions.

Innovative partnerships like these are key for hospitals in winning the war against preventable readmissions and for staying viable in today’s healthcare climate.

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