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Patients Can't Recall Their Medications

Patients Can't Recall Their Medications

New research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has found that nearly 50 percent of patients taking antihypertensive drugs in three community health centers were unable to accurately name a single one of their medications listed in their medical chart.

That number climbed to 65 percent for patients with low health literacy.

Doctors rely on patients to accurately tell them what prescription medications – and what dosages -- they are taking in out-patient visits. That information is essential for physicians to monitor whether a drug is working, and whether it may have adverse interactions with any new medications prescribed.

“It was worse than we expected,” said lead author Stephen Persell, M.D. “It means doctors can’t ask patients to tell them the medications they are taking for their chronic conditions like hypertension.”

The Northwestern study looked at 119 patients, average age 55, from community health centers in Grand Rapids, Mich. Researchers asked them to name their antihypertensive drugs and then compared their answers to the drugs listed in their medical charts.

Persell's study also showed patients with low health literacy were prescribed more antihypertensive medications than other patients and had higher blood pressure by about five points.

“We think doctors may be prescribing more medications because the patients aren’t giving them the right information about what they are taking,” he said.

Even examining patients’ medical records won’t necessarily tell a doctor what pills a patient is swallowing. Persell said some patients continue to fill old prescriptions even if a doctor has changed the dosages or the medication.

The solution is to ask patients to bring all their current medicine bottles to doctor appointments, so the physician can compare them to what has actually been prescribed in the medical charts, Persell noted.

The Northwestern study indicates a need for future research to address how patients’ inability to name their medications impacts hypertension control and drug safety.; Source: Northwestern University

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