Report: Pharmacist-Led Interventions Don’t Reduce Medication Errors Post-Discharge

At first blush, some hospitalists might see it as bad news that a recent report found a pharmacist-assisted medication reconciliation ("med rec") intervention did not significantly reduce clinically important medication errors after discharge. But a deeper reading of the study tells a different story, says a hospitalist who worked on the report.

"This is the latest in our growing understanding of the roles of certain interventions on transitions of care," says Jeffrey Schnipper, MD, MPH, FHM, director of clinical research and an associate physician in the general medicine division at Brigham and Women’s Hospitalist Service in Boston, and co-author of the study "Effect of a Pharmacist Intervention on Clinically Important Medication Errors after Hospital Discharge." "What I don’t want to have happen is for people to read this article … and say, ‘Oh, pharmacists don’t make a difference.’ They absolutely make a difference. This is a more nuanced issue of who do they have the biggest impact with, and ‘On top of what other interventions are you doing this?’"

The researchers set out to determine whether a pharmacist-delivered intervention on patients with low health literacy (including a post-discharge telephone call) would lower adverse drug events and other clinically important medication errors. They concluded that it did not (unadjusted incidence rate ratio, 0.92 [95% CI, 0.77 to 1.10]).

Dr. Schnipper says the impact was likely muted because the patients studied had higher health-literacy levels than researchers expected. Also, because most follow-up phone calls occurred within a few days of discharge, the intervention failed to capture any events that happened in the 30 days after discharge.

He also notes that the institutions that participated in the study have already implemented multiple med-rec interventions over the past few years. Hospitals that have not focused intently on the issue could find much larger gains from implementing pharmacist-led programs.

"If you’re a hospital that has not been fixated on improving medication safety and transitions of care, I think pharmacists are huge," Dr. Schnipper says. "The key, then, is to focus them on the highest-risk patients."

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