You stand a good chance of making a drug-related mistake shortly after you've spent time in a hospital, especially if you're a heart patient—and even if a hospital pharmacist gives you extra guidance to help you understand your medication instructions.

A report recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that more than half of hospital patients admitted for a heart attack or heart failure make subsequent drug errors after discharge—many serious and some life threatening.

After studying 851 patients, researchers were surprised to find that even when well-educated patients received special counseling and follow-up phone calls beyond traditional care to ensure they were using their prescriptions properly, half still had trouble following their drug regimen and fared no better than patients who didn't receive special intervention.

Although the study looked at heart patients, it can apply to patients hospitalized for other ailments as well. Misused drugs included not only heart medications like anticoagulants and statins but also opioids, diuretics, antidepressants and even herbs, vitamins and other supplements. The most common mistakes included not taking a prescribed drug, missing a dose, taking an incorrect dose, delaying filling a prescription and stopping a drug too early.

You can avoid medication errors after leaving the hospital by taking an active role in your care. Follow these precautions so your drugs will help—not harm—you:

  • Write down everything your doctor or nurse tells you about your medicines before your discharge, such as what they're for and common side effects. Ask a loved one to be present to take notes.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to repeat instructions until you’re sure you understand them.
  • Get all your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. The pharmacists there can keep track of the drugs you take and warn you of any potential interactions.
  • List all your prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements and their doses for your pharmacist and doctors.
  • Take note of warning stickers on drug containers and read all the information that comes with your prescriptions.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 20 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015