OBJECTIVE: Communication failures account for many adverse drug events (ADEs) in adult primary care. Improving patient-physician communication may improve medication safety. Accordingly, the goal of this study was to learn whether electronic medication safety messages directed to patients can improve communication about medications and identify ADEs.
DESIGN: We studied adult patients enrolled in a patient Internet portal at three primary care practices affiliated with a teaching hospital. MedCheck, a medication safety application, sent patients a secure electronic message 10 days after they received a new or changed prescription. MedCheck asked if the patient had filled the prescription or experienced medication-related problems, and then forwarded the patient's response to their primary care physician.
MEASUREMENTS: We selected a stratified random sample of 267 subjects from 1821 patients who received and opened a MedCheck message from April 2001 to June 2002. We reviewed subjects' medical records for three months following their first MedCheck message. We analyzed patient and clinician response rates and times, examined patient-clinician communication about medications, and identified ADEs.
RESULTS: Patients opened 79% of MedCheck messages and responded to 12%; 77% responded within 1 day. Patients often identified problems filling their prescriptions (48%), problems with drug effectiveness (12%), and medication symptoms (10%). Clinicians responded to 68% of patients' messages; 93% answered within 1 week. Clinicians often supplied or requested information (19%), or made multiple recommendations (15%). Patients experienced 21 total ADEs; they reported 17 electronically.
CONCLUSION: Patients and physicians responded promptly to patient-directed electronic medication messages, identifying and addressing medication-related problems including ADEs.