Pharmacists Can Improve Communication in Transitions of Care

The importance of good communication in transitions of care cannot be stressed enough, and the pharmacist can play a crucial role in facilitating communication related to medication concerns. This point was highlighted during a recent panel session at the 2015 American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) annual meeting. As reported in Pharmacy Times, the panelists discussed their research about communication barriers that exist between long-term care (LTC) facilities and geriatric emergency departments (ED).

As early as 2008, hospitals began implementing emergency rooms specifically catered towards geriatric patients. By addressing specific concerns such as evening confusion and fall risks, these departments have improved outcomes for geriatric patients in the hospital and post-discharge. However, the ASCP panelists examined situations in which residents in the receiving ED did not receive complete information about patient care history, including medications or lab results, from the LTC facility.

The Cost of Poor Communication

With any ED, there are challenges in attaining patient history and baseline of health information, since patients often can’t communicate for themselves. According to experts in health communication, these barriers in communication can lead to delays in care or excessive care and unnecessary health costs. The Pharmacy Times article reported that the average cost of medication errors is $268 per patient, and secondary costs for increased length of stays estimated at $3244. It’s obvious that hospitals can’t afford communication breakdown that can potentially lead to such errors.

How Pharmacists Can Help

In the cases examined, the researchers identified four areas in which pharmacist involvement could improve communication gaps during care transitions:

1. Prevent adverse drug events associated with ED admission.
2. Optimize medication regimen to prevent disease progression or exacerbation.
3. Perform medication reconciliation upon all transitions of care.
4. Facilitate communication with outside care providers to ensure quality of care for residents.

At the upcoming American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) 50th Annual Midyear conference, the pharmacist’s role in transitions of care, whether from the LTC facility to the hospital, or the hospital to the home, is sure to be examined. In addition to offering support to other providers when it comes to medication expertise, pharmacists have been shown to be more effective in influencing patient behavior and medication adherence compared with others traditionally involved in discharge planning.

With the multitude of responsibilities providers face, many hospitals are embracing the clinical value of pharmacists, incorporating them as part of the patient care team. As provider status for pharmacists continues to be explored and debated nationwide, it’s clear that pharmacists can provide additional value to patients, nurses, and hospitals by stepping in during care transitions.

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