Quality Improvement Project Helps Hospital Patients Get Needed Prescriptions


A quality-improvement (QI) project to give high-risk patients ready access to prescribed medications at the time of hospital discharge achieved an 86% success rate, according to an abstract poster presented at HM12 in San Diego last April.1

Lead author Elizabeth Le, MD, then a resident at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF) and now a practicing hospitalist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., says the multidisciplinary “brown bag medications” project involved training house staff to recognize patients at risk. Staff meetings and rounds were used to identify appropriate candidates—those with limited mobility or cognitive issues, lacking insurance coverage or financial resources, a history of medication noncompliance, or leaving the hospital against medical advice—as well as those prescribed medications with a greater urgency for administration on schedule, such as anticoagulants or antibiotics.

About one-quarter of patients on the unit where this approach was first tested were found to need the service, which involved faxing prescriptions to an outpatient pharmacy across the street from the hospital for either pick-up by the family or delivery to the patient’s hospital room. For those with financial impediments, hospital social workers and case managers explored other options, including the social work department’s discretionary use fund, to pay for the drugs.

Dr. Le believes the project could be replicated in other facilities that lack access to in-house pharmacy services at discharge. She recommends involving social workers and case managers in the planning.

At UCSF, recent EHR implementation has automated the ordering of medications, but the challenge of recognizing who could benefit from extra help in obtaining their discharge medications remains a critical issue for hospitals trying to bring readmissions under control.

For more information about the brown bag medications program, contact Dr. Le at [email protected].


  1. Le L, Kynoch E, Monetta C, et al. Brown bag medications: Development and implementation of a program to provide discharge medications [abstract]. J Hosp Med. 2012;7 Suppl 2:S103.

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