Patient Care

Reconciliation Act


Source: Blake Lesselroth, MD, MBI, Portland VA Medical Center

A patient checks in at the Portland VA Medical Center in Oregon using the Automated Patient History Intake Device.

Pharmacist Kristine M. Gleason, RPh, got the chance to personally test her ability to help ED providers with medication reconciliation—known by most in healthcare as “med rec”—when she broke her leg a couple of years ago. No problem, she thought: “I’ve been involved in med-rec efforts for eight-plus years.”

But when asked to provide her current medications, Gleason, who is the clinical quality leader in the department of clinical quality and analytics at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says she was in pain and overwhelmed. “I couldn’t even remember my children’s names, let alone the names and dosages of my aspirin and my thyroid medication,” she says. Moreover, she didn’t carry a list in her wallet because “I’m a pharmacist and I do med rec,” she says.

Gleason’s experience highlights why, six years after The Joint Commission introduced medication reconciliation as National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG) No. 8, hospitals and providers still struggle with the process.1 As a younger patient, Gleason took few medications. But for the majority of elderly inpatients with comorbid conditions, just establishing the patient’s medication list can bring the whole process to a halt; without that foundational list, reconciling other medications becomes problematic.

Although the commission has taken the goals under review and has, since July 1, required compliance with the revised NPSG 03.06.01 (see “Additional Resources,”), hospitalization-associated adverse drug events continue to mount. A recent Canadian study caused a ripple this summer with its findings that patients discharged from acute-care hospitals were at higher risk for unintentional discontinuation of their medications prescribed for chronic diseases than control groups, and those who had an ICU stay are at even higher risk.2

There’s been no shortage of med-rec initiatives in recent years. Medication reconciliation was at the top of the list for ways to prevent errors when the Institute for Healthcare Improvement launched its “5 Million Lives Campaign” in December 2006. SHM weighed in on the issue in 2010 with a consensus statement on key principles and necessary first steps in med rec.3

“This isn’t a new problem,” Gleason says. “Med rec has become more heightened because we have many more medications and complex therapies, more care providers, more specialists—more players, if you will.”

The March launch of the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, part of the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services’ (CMS) Inpatient Prospective Payment System, will again shine the spotlight on med rec’s role in the prevention of 30-day readmissions. The Hospitalist talked with researchers, pharmacists, and hospitalists about the reasons behind medication discrepancies, and their strategies for addressing mismatches.

Why So Difficult?

Source: Blake Lesselroth, MD, MBI, Portland VA Medical Center

Figure 1, Medication Reconciliation Cycle

The goal of medication reconciliation is to generate and maintain an accurate and coherent record of patients’ medications across all transitions of care, which sounds straightforward enough. But the process involves much more than just checking items off a list, says Jeffrey Schnipper, MD, MPH, FHM, currently the principal investigator for the $1.5 million study funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to research and implement best practices in med rec, dubbed MARQUIS (Multicenter Medication Reconciliation Quality Improvement Study). Those immersed in med rec know that it’s nonlinear, multilayered, and surprisingly complex, requiring partnerships among diverse providers across many domains of care.

“Medication reconciliation gets right at all the weaknesses of our healthcare system,” says Dr. Schnipper, a hospitalist and director of clinical research for the HM service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. “We have an excellent healthcare system in so many ways, but what we do not do such a good job of is coordination of care across settings, easy transfer of information, and having one person who is responsible for the accuracy of a patient’s health information.”

Dr. Schnipper’s studies attest to the common occurrence of unintentional medical discrepancies, pointing to the need for accurate medication histories, identifying high-risk patients for intensive interventions, and careful med rec at time of discharge.4

Other factors might come into play, says Ted Tsomides, MD, PhD, an attending physician on the HM service at WakeMed Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine in Raleigh, N.C. For example, he surmises that a “fatigue factor” sets in for some providers. “After five years of working on any initiative, people get worn out and push it to the back burner, unless they are really incentivized to stay on it,” he says.

List Capture

Medication reconciliation is a multifaceted process, and the first step is to gather the history of medications the patient has been taking. Hospitalist Blake J. Lesselroth, MD, MBI, assistant professor of medicine and medical informatics and director of the Portland Patient Safety Center of Inquiry at the Portland VA Medical Center in Oregon, points out that “the initial exposure to the patient is like a pencil sketch. You start to realize that med rec involves iterative loops of communication between you, the patient, and other knowledge resources (see Figure 1). As you start to pull in more information, you begin to complete your narrative. At the end of hospitalization, you’ve got a vibrant portrait with much more nuance to it. So it can’t be a linear process.”

This isn’t a new problem. Med rec has become more heightened because we have many more medications and complex therapies, more care providers, more specialists—more players, if you will.

—Kristine M. Gleason, RPh, clinical quality leader, department of clinical quality and analytics, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago

The list is dynamic, especially in the ICU setting, says Gleason, where it represents only one point in time.

In a closed system, such as the Veterans Administration or Kaiser Permanente, it’s often easier to establish a patient’s ongoing medications. With an integrated electronic health record (EHR), providers can call up the patient’s list of medications during admittance to the hospital. Verifying those medications remains critical: The health record lists patients’ prescriptions, but that doesn’t always mean they have actually filled or are taking those medications.

At the Kaiser Permanente Southern California site in Santa Clarita, Calif., where hospitalist David W. Wong, MD, works, pharmacists review their medications with patients when they are admitted, provide any needed consultation, then repeat the process at discharge. “So far,” Dr. Wong says, “this has resulted in the best medication reconciliation that we’ve seen.”

Pharmacy Is Key

In 2006, Kenneth Boockvar, MD, of the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., found in a pre- and post-intervention study that using pharmacists to ferret out and communicate prescribing discrepancies to physicians resulted in lower risk of adverse drug events (ADEs) for patients transferred between the hospital and the nursing home.5 Likewise, Dr. Schnipper and his colleagues found that using pharmacists to conduct medication reviews, counsel patients at discharge, and make follow-up telephone calls to patients was associated with a lower rate of preventable ADEs 30 days after hospital discharge.6

At United Hospital System’s (UHS) Kenosha Medical Center campus in Kenosha, Wis., pharmacists play a key role in generating medication lists for incoming patients. Hospitalist Corey Black, MD, regional medical director for Cogent HMG, says many patients do not recall their medications or the dosages, so UHS utilizes a team approach: If patients come in during evenings or weekends, pharmacists start calling local pharmacies to track down patients’ medication lists. “We also try to have family members bring in any medication containers they can find,” he adds. Due to a Wisconsin state law mandating nursing homes to send medication lists along with patients, generating a list is much easier.

Dr. Tsomides is a physician sponsor of a new med-rec initiative at WakeMed. With a steering committee that includes representatives from stakeholder services (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, administration, etc.), the group plans to hire and train pharmacy techs who will take home medication lists in the ED, lifting that responsibility from physicians’ task lists.

Is IT the Answer?

Additional Resources

  • More detail on The Joint Committee’s revised patient-safety goal, “Maintain and communicate accurate patient medication information,” which now is included in the accreditation process, is available at
  • The MATCH toolkit is available at
  • HI’s Medication Safety Toolkit is available at
  • The tools being developed for MARQUIS—including video on proper discharge counseling, risk stratification tools, and return-on-investment analyses for hospital administration—will be made widely available through SHM’s website in the spring.

Would many of the barriers to med rec go away with universal EHR? So far, the literature has not borne out the superiority of using EHR to facilitate better med rec.

Peter Kaboli and colleagues found that the computerized medication record reflected what patients were actually taking for only 5.3% of the 493 VA patients enrolled in a study at the Iowa City VA.7 Kenneth Boockvar and colleagues at the Bronx VA found no difference in the overall incidence of ADEs caused by medication discrepancies between VA patients with an EHR and non-VA patients without an EHR.8 A group of researchers with Partners HealthCare in Boston evaluated a secure, Web-based patient portal to produce more accurate medication lists. The patients using this system had just as many discrepancies between medication lists and self-reporting as those who did not.9

Dr. Lesselroth, who has devised a patient kiosk touch-screen tool for reconciling patients’ medication lists and has faced barriers when implementing said technology, says med rec is much more “organic” than strictly mechanical. “It invokes theories of learning from the cognitive sciences,” he says. “We haven’t actually built tools that help people with their problem representation, with understanding not just how medications reconcile with the prior setting of care, but whether they make clinical sense within the new context of care. That requires a quantum leap in thinking.”

Re-Brand the Message

Drs. Schnipper and Tsomides believe that when The Joint Committee first coined the term “medication reconciliation” and advanced it as a mandate, most providers associated it with a regulatory requirement, and understandably so. Dr. Schnipper says med rec could be improved if providers think about it in the context of accurate orders that translate to greater patient safety. “After all,” he says, “hospitalists are ultimately responsible for the medication orders written for their patients.

“This is not about regulatory requirements,” he continues. “This is about medication safety and transitions of care. You can spend an hour on deciding what dose of Lasix you want to send this patient home on, but if the patient then takes the wrong dose of Lasix because they don’t know what they were supposed to be taking, then all that good medical care is undone.”

The med rec conversation has come full circle, then, as being truly an issue of delivering patient-centered care. (For more on this topic, visit to read “Patient Engagement Critical.”) Rather than focusing on the sometimes-befuddling term of medication reconciliation, providers should see med rec as part of an integrated medication management process that aims to take better care of patients through prevention and treatment, Gleason says.

Using pharmacists to ferret out and communicate prescribing discrepancies to physicians resulted in lower risk of adverse drug events for patients transferred between the hospital and the nursing home.

The med rec issue is about effective communication at every transition of care. And that’s why, says Dr. Schnipper, “Hospitalists should own this process. We don’t have to do the process entirely by ourselves—and shouldn’t. But we are responsible for errors that happen during transitions in care and we should own these initiatives.”

He notes that all six hospitals enrolled in the MARQUIS study have hospitalists at the forefront of their quality-improvement (QI) efforts.

“Medication reconciliation is potentially a high-risk process, and there are no silver bullets” for globally addressing the process, says Dorothea Wild, MD, chief hospitalist at Griffin Hospital, a 160-bed acute care hospital in Derby, Conn.

Hospitalists should own this process. We don’t have to do the process entirely by ourselves—and shouldn’t. But we are responsible for errors that happen during transitions in care and we should own these initiatives.

—Jeffrey Schnipper, MD, MPH, FHM, hospitalist and director of clinical research, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Hospitalist Service, assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston

Dr. Wild draws a parallel between med rec and blood transfusions. Just as with correct transfusing procedures, “we envision a process where at least two people independently verify what patients’ medications are,” she says. The meds list is started in the ED by nursing staff, is verified by the ED attending, verified again by the admitting team, and triple-checked by the admitting attending. Thus, says Dr. Wild, med rec becomes a shared responsibility.

Dr. Lesselroth wholeheartedly agrees with the approach.

“This is everybody’s job,” he says. “In a larger world view, med rec is all about trying to find a medication regimen that harmonizes with what the patient can do, that improves their probability of adherence, and that also helps us gather information when the patient returns and we re-embrace them in the care model. Theoretically, then, everybody [interfacing with a patient] becomes a clutch player.”

Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer in California.

Target High-Risk Patients

Target High-Risk Patients

Pharmacist Kristine M. Gleason, RPh, was the lead author of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s MATCH (Medications at Transitions and Clinical Handoffs) study, which formed the basis for the recommendations contained in a toolkit generated by the research team (see “Additional Resources,” p. 20).10 Comparing pharmacist and hospitalist medication histories with medication orders, the authors uncovered medication errors for one-third of the study’s 651 patients at admission. The majority of errors (85%) originated in patients’ medication histories. As a result of the study, Gleason explains, the authors recommend that admitting physicians focus on older patients with polypharmacy to reduce medication errors.

Roberta Barber, PharmD, MPH, assistant vice president of pharmacy at Virtua Health in Mount Holly, N.J., oversees pharmacy operations for Virtua’s four hospital campuses. She is involved in med rec/readmission initiatives that focus on such disease states as congestive heart failure that are likely to result in discrepancies. “We can’t have dedicated pharmacists for every unit and every patient, so we have to strategically pick where we can have the most impact.”


  1. Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. 2005 Hospital Accreditation Standards. JCO website. Available at: JCI-Accredited-Organizations/. Accessed Dec. 7, 2011.
  2. Bell CM, Brener SS, Gunraj N, et al. Association of ICU or hospital admission with unintentional discontinuation of medications for chronic diseases. JAMA. 2011;306:840-847.
  3. Greenwald JL, Halasyamani L, Green J, et al. Making inpatient medication patient centered, clinically relevant and implementable: a consensus statement on key principles and necessary first steps. J Hosp Med. 2010;5:477-485.
  4. Pippins JR, Gandhi TK, Hamann C, et al. Classifying and predicting errors of inpatient medication reconciliation. J Gen Intern Med. 2008;23:1414-1422.
  5. Boockvar KS, Carlson HL, Giambanco V, et al. Medication reconciliation for reducing drug-discrepancy adverse events. Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2006;4:236-243.
  6. Schnipper JL, Kirwin JL, Cotugno MC, et al. Role of pharmacist counseling in preventing adverse drug events after hospitalization. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:565-571.
  7. Kaboli PJ, McClimon JB, Hoth AB, et al. Assessing the accuracy of computerized medication histories. Am J Manag Care. 2004;10(11 Pt 2):872-877.
  8. Boockvar KS, Livote EE, Goldstein N, et al. Electronic health records and adverse drug events after patient transfer. Qual Saf Health Care. 2010;5:Epub(Aug 19).
  9. Staroselsky M, Volk LA, Tsurikova R, et al. An effort to improve electronic health record medication list accuracy between visits: patients’ and physicians’ responses. Int J Med Inform. 2008;77:153-160.
  10. Gleason KM, McDaniel MR, Feinglass J, et al. Results of the Medications at Transitions and Clinical Handoffs (MATCH) study: an analysis of medication reconciliation errors and risk factors at hospital admission. J Gen Intern Med. 2010;25:441-447.

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