Medication errors in hospitals and nursing facilities have become a serious concern now that studies have suggested these errors occur at a rate of once a day per patient. The driving factor influencing medication errors may be the quantity of medications being prescribed and administered. On average, patients are prescribed between nine and ten medications, increasing the likelihood that at least one of those medications will be administered incorrectly or interact with another medication being taken. It appears that the solution to this dilemma may be as simple as limiting the amount of medications that any patient is administered during a hospital stay and reevaluating the need for patients to continue taking medications following discharge.
Administering Fewer Medications Has More Benefits than Risks
On first glance, it may seem irresponsible to take patients off of medications that they are taking regularly prior to intake, but medical professionals are beginning to find that the benefits outweigh the risks. There are certain medications that are considered to be a part of a never stop list such as blood pressure medications or medications taken to regulate blood sugar levels, but most other drugs can be evaluated when a patient is admitted to a hospital to determine whether the patient truly needs the medication and if he or she could do without it during a hospital stay. The benefits of eliminating unnecessary medications include the following.
- With fewer medications comes a reduced risk of administration error or drug interaction. Studies have shown that the incident rate increases as patients are placed on more medications and that it is much safer to care for patients who are on fewer medications.
- Some of the medications patients are on may be inappropriate or interact with the medications needed to address their current medical conditions. It may be more beneficial to temporarily suspend a medicine rather than to risk complications.
- Evaluation of a patient’s medications may ultimately improve his or her quality of life by allowing physicians to identify medications that are no longer needed or which are the cause of complications and side effects that are detrimental to the patient’s overall health.
Organization is required to Determine Which Medications to Administer
While some experts are advocating the cessation of many medications during a hospital stay, they are equally concerned with the manner in which doctors would determine which medications patients should continue to take and which should no longer be administered. The rule of thumb is that all home medications should be discontinued unless the patient’s tending physician is able to justify continuation of the medicine. This would weed out all medications that are not essential to the treatment of potentially life threatening conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Once the physician ceases the administration of medicines, a more clear determination can be made concerning the medicines that were truly necessary as the patient’s condition stabilizes. If a patient reacts favorably in the absence of a medication, he or she would no longer need to take the medication— even when he or she has been discharged and returned home or to a nursing facility.
Reduction in Administration of Medications May be Cost Effective
In addition to the potential safety benefits of taking patients off their nonessential medications during hospital costs, the practice could save hospitals, insurance companies and patients quite a bit of money. Hospitals tend to overcharge for medications that are prescribed during hospital stays in order to cover the cost of caring for patients who do not have insurance or who cannot pay for the treatment they receive. These costs are ultimately passed down to the patient but they initially affect the insurance companies that need to foot the hospital bill.
Additionally, medications that are eliminated permanently will save insurance companies money by reducing the number of medications they must cover through their prescription plans. When the overall cost of medications is reduced, the patient is the ultimate beneficiary of the savings because the out of pocket costs he or she may be responsible for will be lowered.
It really should not be difficult to surmise that the ultimate solution to medication errors caused by an excess of prescriptions might actually be a reduction in the medications given. The development of an effective system that would reduce the number of medications patients are required to take during their hospital stays will reduce the number of medication errors experienced and allow hospitals to increase the quality of care provided. This is coupled with a reduction in cost to insurance companies and patients and provides a benefit to every party involved.