Integrating pharmacists key to reducing medication errors

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A June 18, 2012, article from the news section on the Penn Medicine website examines the value of increasing pharmacist involvement in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Medication errors account for approximately 1.3 million people being injured every year and at least one death occurring every day in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration reports. That figure doesn’t include the numerous “near-misses” that aren’t documented.

Among the most vulnerable of these victims are HIV patients who, the article points out, have a more intense and restricted medication regimen that unfortunately opens the door for more errors in their treatment, especially with inpatient providers unfamiliar with antiretroviral medication.

Referencing a study done by Baligh Yehia, MD, MSHP, MPP, Infectious Diseases fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, the article reveals that in some cases, the dangerous side effects to this mistreatment of HIV patients were often corrected when a pharmacist had the chance to review the medication orders.

The article calls a pharmacist’s role in detecting these errors an “important checkpoint to ensure that the drugs patients receive in their rooms are, in fact, correct and safe,” and the study’s senior author Kelly Gebo, MD, MPH, and an associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, recommends that pharmacists be brought in even earlier to review medication regimens. If a hospital can’t afford this, she urges a targeted program that identifies the most at-risk patients for drug errors.

Integrating pharmacists into the treatment program can also provide the unifying factor needed for patients who see multiple physicians and specialists, each of whom must rely on that patient’s memory as a record of their medication history. In fact, the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania integrates pharmacists as part of the multidisciplinary care team from a patient’s admission to their discharge.

Jimish Mehta, Pharm.D, co-author of Yehia’s study and a post-doctoral research fellow in Penn Medicine’s Center for Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist for Infectious Diseases in the department of Pharmacy, observed, “Pharmacists are unique members of the multidisciplinary team that can improve the process because of their familiarity with medication dosage forms, brand and generic names, and outpatient pharmacy practices.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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