Improvements to Medication Communication in Hospitals

It looks as if hospitals are doing a better job of making sure they tell inpatients about their medications, according to a report from the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) program.


The VBP reports that for fiscal year 2014, almost 71 percent (70.7 percent) of those hospitals that participated met or surpassed the “achievement threshold” for the measure known as “communication about medicines.”


This gauge actually is a combination of two entries in the patient survey conducted by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). The questions were:

  • Before giving you any new medicine, how often did hospital staff describe possible side effects in a way you could understand?
  • Before giving you any new medicine, how often did hospital staff tell you what the medicine was for?

The achievement threshold as set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for this measure was 59.85 percent for the FY 2014 VPB program. The measures were created as based on surveys of adults discharged from hospitals between April and December 2010.


The article on the results quotes a director of clinical pharmacies at a Minneapolis hospital as saying that communicating about new medications with patients is a “tremendous opportunity for pharmacists” because they know when new medicines are started and so have the opportunity to provide education to patients.


Still, the article goes on, education doesn’t necessarily have to come from a pharmacist (although the pharmacist should be “involved in developing” the educational programs).


A Louisiana health system discussed how beneficial it can be to educate patients as well as family members about medications when everyone is in the patients’ room. The professional educating the family on the drugs could be a physician or nurse; the pharmacist doesn’t need to be there.


A hospital in North Carolina was quoted as stating how critical it is to “standardize the resources … for the nurses to use for our patient education.”


Another hospital makes sure pharmacists meet every day with nursing staff to review all patients and their medication therapies, lab results and even radiology study results. They then take this information into a daily case management meeting. Another pharmacist attends a separate ICU meeting , during which nurses can ask many questions about patients and their medications.


Has your hospital improved its programs for patient education regarding their new medicines? If so, what do you think of the program? What still needs improving?


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