Incidence, severity and preventability of medication-related visits to the emergency department: a prospective study

Zed, Peter J.; Abu-Laban, Riyad B.; Balen, Robert M.; Loewen, Peter S.; Hohl, Corinne M.; Brubacher, Jeffrey R.; Wilbur, Kerry; Wiens, Matthew O.; Samoy, Leslie J.; Lacaria, Katie; Purssell, Roy A.
June 2008
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;6/3/2008, Vol. 178 Issue 12, p1563
Academic Journal
Background: Medication-related visits to the emergency department are an important but poorly understood phenomenon. We sought to evaluate the frequency, severity and preventability of drug-related visits to the emergency department. Methods: We performed a prospective observational study of randomly selected adults presenting to the emergency department over a 12-week period. Emergency department visits were identified as drug-related on the basis of assessment by a pharmacist research assistant and an emergency physician; discrepancies were adjudicated by 2 independent reviewers. Results: Among the 1017 patients included in the study, the emergency department visit was identified as drug-related for 122 patients (12.0%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 10.1%-14.2%); of these, 83 visits (68.0%, 95% CI 59.0%-76.2%) were deemed preventable. Severity was classified as mild in 15.6% of the 122 cases, moderate in 74.6% and severe in 9.8%. The most common reasons for drug-related visits were adverse drug reactions (39.3%), nonadherence (27.9%) and use of the wrong or suboptimal drug (11.5%). The probability of admission was significantly higher among patients who had a drug-related visit than among those whose visit was not drug-related (OR 2.18, 95% CI 1.46-3.27, p < 0.001), and among those admitted, the median length of stay was longer (8.0 [interquartile range 23.5] v. 5.5 [interquartile range 10.0] days, p = 0.06). Interpretation: More than 1 in 9 emergency department visits are due to drug-related adverse events, a potentially preventable problem in our health care system.


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