Medications are being discontinued—and the pharmacist may not know

November 19, 2012

More than 85,000 medications are discontinued each year by physicians, yet while physicians share this information with their patients, it is too often not shared with the pharmacists. This communication gap, identified by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, allows discontinued medications continue to be dispensed at pharmacies, representing an important patient safety concern.

The study will be published on November 20, 2012 in the .

"This is a novel issue that has not been measured previously," explained Thomas Sequist, MD, MPH, a physician at BWH and Harvard Vanguard, and senior author of this study. "We found that 1.5 percent all off discontinued medications were refilled by the pharmacy and that 12 percent of those refilled medications caused some degree of potential harm to the patients."

The study was conducted at Harvard Vanguard, and the researchers used to analyze 1,218 medications that were discontinued throughout 2009. They then reviewed a sample of more than 400 medical charts for any that may have happened due to the fact that the patient continued to take a discontinued medication. After reviewing these charts, they found that 1.5 percent of discontinued medications continue to be refilled by the pharmacy and that of those; potential harm resulted from dispensing these medications in 12 percent of the cases. The harm ranged from serious issues such as and possible , to less serious effects such as lightheadedness or nausea.

With the growing use of electronic medical records, prescriptions are now easily transmitted to pharmacies with the click of a mouse; they can also be discontinued and removed from medication lists in the physician's office with a similar click. However, this study shows that there is little feedback to either or to ensure that patients are following the map laid out by this electronic trail. Many physicians may incorrectly assume that the patient will remember to stop taking the particular discontinued medication or that discontinuing a medication in the electronic health record is automatically transmitted to the pharmacy, in the same way that a new prescription is transmitted.

"The implementation of electronic health records have offered a clear opportunity to track when a clinician discontinues a medication, but now there needs to be a process that helps discontinued orders be transmitted electronically to the retail pharmacy," explained Adrienne Allen, MD, MPH, associate medical director of Quality, Safety, and Risk at North Shore Physicians Group, and lead author of this study. "Future research should focus on evaluating methods of improving communication between providers and pharmacies to better reconcile medication lists, as well as explore strategies to improve patient knowledge and awareness of their medication regimen," explained Allen.

Explore further: Study shows pharmacies' software systems miss potentially dangerous interactions

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers identify source of opioids' side effects

January 17, 2017

A commercially available drug may help drastically reduce two side effects of opioid painkillers—a growing tolerance and a paradoxical increased sensitivity to pain—without affecting the drugs' ability to reduce pain, ...

CVS generic competitor to EpiPen, sold at a 6th the price

January 12, 2017

CVS is now selling a rival, generic version of Mylan's EpiPen at about a sixth of its price, just months after the maker of the life-saving allergy treatment was eviscerated before Congress because of its soaring cost to ...

Many misuse OTC sleep aids: survey

December 29, 2016

(HealthDay)—People struggling with insomnia often turn to non-prescription sleep remedies that may be habit-forming and are only intended for short-term use, according to a new Consumer Reports survey.

The pill won't kill your sexual desire, researchers say

December 15, 2016

Taking the pill doesn't lower your sexual desire, contrary to popular belief, according to research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The authors of the research, from the University of Kentucky and Indiana University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.