Going Home from the Hospital: Avoiding Medication Confusion

The transition from a hospital stay back to home requires careful planning and attention to a key component of the discharge plan: medication instructions. The medication list the patient is discharged with often looks very different from the list they came in with, leaving a lot of room for confusion once the patient is back home.

Medication Management at Home

One of the biggest risks during this time is that the patient and/or caregiver will not understand how medication should be given at home, including which medications are to be continued, and at what dose and frequency. Even though patients are sent home with hospital discharge medication orders, it is common for confusion to arise about the use of these drugs. Sometimes, this confusion arises because of hospital errors, additions, or omissions in the discharge medication orders. Sometimes medications that are used in the hospital setting, such as stool softeners, are not really needed when the patient is back home.

Patients can have trouble when medications are to be taken at different times of day, or under specific circumstances. It’s important to know if a certain medication should be taken on a consistent schedule, such as twice a day, or on a “PRN” (as needed) basis.  If the medication is to be taken “PRN,” the patient or caregiver must understand the parameters for when it should be given, such as when the patient’s blood pressure is above or below a certain level. Improper use of medications can lead to negative health outcomes, including re-hospitalization or even death.

Avoiding Medication Confusion

Here are a few tips to reduce the risk of medication confusion:

  • Compare Old and New Medication Lists: It is best to compare your old medication list with the discharge medication list before you leave the hospital, if possible. That way you can ask the hospital staff about any discrepancies. Also, call your primary care physician to review the discharge medication list so he or she can confirm what you should be taking when you get home.
  • Ask Questions: If you are unsure about how a medication should be used or if something doesn’t seem right to you, then it’s best to talk to the doctor. Your pharmacist can also be a resource. Never guess or make assumptions about medications. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  • Family Support: It can be hard for a patient to understand and retain instructions without outside support. Have a family member, partner, or friend present when you are receiving discharge instructions. Hospitals are required to involve designated caregivers in the discharge planning process.
  • Monitor Symptoms: Transitioning home from the hospital is a time when the patient is vulnerable, particularly if they were discharged before they felt ready. Have someone stay with you if possible, and pay attention to any symptoms once you are home. Call your doctor immediately if you have concerns. You should never feel badly about advocating for yourself.
  • Create a System: Use a pillbox or a written chart so you can remember the right times to take the medication.

In some situations, it can be helpful to have professional support with medication management at home. Patients often benefit from professional services offered from one or more of the following resources:

  • Home Health Nurse
  • Senior Care Pharmacist
  • Mobile Physician

If you have questions about medication management or facilitating a smooth hospital discharge, Windward Home Health is here to help. Talk to us to find the best solutions for your individual needs.