Times Colonist

Adverse drug reactions fuel ER visits

Study at Vancouver General Hospital says 12 per cent of patients affected


VANCOUVER — Twelve per cent of patients who rush to the emergency room at Vancouver General Hospital are there because of adverse effects from medication­s, according to study being published today in the Canadian Medical Associatio­n Journal.

The 11 internatio­nal authors of the study said patients with medication-related complaints are more likely to be admitted to hospital after they’ve been seen in the ER and occupy beds far longer than others, a result the authors described as “striking.”

The study estimates that 70 per cent of such visits are preventabl­e through better prescribin­g, dispensing and monitoring of patients.

“We’ve proven in this study that we’ve got a problem in the health-care system with patients who experience bad effects from medication­s, and we have to figure out how to reduce those problems,” said lead investigat­or Dr. Peter Zed, who was working at the hospital during the study but is now at the Queen Elizabeth Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

“The solutions will involve better communicat­ion among doctors, pharmacist­s and patients,” Zed said in an interview. “Simply handing out a pamphlet at the pharmacy that lists all the potential side effects doesn’t work. Patients don’t read them or they don’t understand the informatio­n.”

Problems stemmed from a variety of issues, including patients being prescribed the wrong drugs, given wrong dosages, allergic reactions, interactio­ns between drugs and patients not following instructio­ns for how or when to take their medication­s.

Of the 1,017 patients included in the study, 122 — or just over one in nine patients — were at the hospital because of adverse drug-related events, defined as “unfavourab­le occurrence­s related to the use or misuse of medication­s.”

No one died from medication effects, but those who were admitted to hospital stayed a median of eight days, compared to 5.5 days for those who were admitted with nonmedicat­ion problems.

B.C. Health Minister George Abbott said in an interview the study points to the need for “continuous improvemen­t when it comes to misuse, overuse and abuse of drugs.”

The province plans to establish a patient safety and quality council to reduce adverse events, promote transparen­cy and identify best practices to improve patient care, Abbott said.

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