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Medication errors common cause for elderly hospital readmission

Elderly residents of Colorado may be shocked by the results of a study showing that readmission following a hospital stay is a common occurrence. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study found a readmission rate of one elderly patient out of every eight discharged from a hospital. This outcome has led some medical centers to reduce the risk of complications following discharge by establishing care coordinators. Patients in other facilities must often rely on state-run assistance programs or family for care coordination.

Experts point to several problems contributing to the high rate of complications. They include failure to follow up with doctor appointments in the weeks after discharge, medication errors and loss of ability to care for one's self under the influence of medications prescribed for pain. Elderly or not, many people require short-term help with basic tasks, and they may also need reminders regarding medication changes and other orders from the doctor. Some insurance programs may cover these types of assistance, and some states and medical centers offer care coordination programs for patients.

Among the causes for readmission, the most common may be medication error. A procedure is often accompanied by new prescriptions, discontinued medications and dosage changes. In some cases, doctors may fail to ensure the patient understands instructions, or they may not provide instructions in a written format. Yale researchers found 81 percent of discharged patients suffer from errors in medication.

Patients may experience serious injury due to a physician's failure to prescribe proper medication or administration of a dangerous combination of prescriptions. These mistakes and others may result in a worsened condition or fatality. Patients and their families who suffer from the actions of a negligent pharmacist or physician may be able to receive compensation from and impose civil penalties on the liable parties.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "How to avoid a return to the hospital", Liza Zamosky, May 17, 2013

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